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June 2007

Favourite pieces


My favourite piece of furniture in our house is the comptoir in my studio.  At the time we were planning our renovation I happened across it in a little shop in Melbourne that has a lovely assortment of French imports.  It’s rather long at 2.5 metres so a hard piece of furniture to find a home for.  At the time I had the architect’s plans with all our house's measurements.  I worked out that it would fit perfectly along the blank wall in what was to become my studio.

Then when I was told that it came from a Parisian haberdashery I couldn't resist it.  So this rather weatherbeaten but beautiful oak shop counter is now home for a lot of my stock, with different drawers for each size and for different garments.  The top is also a lovely big work space to set out projects on.  On messy days it gets covered in piles of fabric, patterns, etc - in fact it rarely looks this tidy.

Up and away

How do you entertain three young boys?  Take them to the airport and give them a good view of the tarmac. 




On Saturday we departed for Port Douglas in far north Queensland where we are spending two lovely weeks of family time.

And I’ll be working hard on repaying the massive sleep debt I have accumulated from all the late night crafting.  So you won't be hearing as much from me over the next fortnight.  I'll be spending my days here, catching up on some book group reads and hanging out with the family.


Fabric yumminess

My friend Jen dropped round this morning and I was able to give her her birthday present.  Happy Birthday Jen!


Jen makes great quilts for her children’s shop in fabulous Yarraville so as well as this thoroughly readable book I gave her a bundle of yummy fabric scraps.  Parting with fabric is fun when I know it’s going to a good home.  I unearthed lots of fabrics that I had forgotten I owned when I went through my very messy scrap box the other day.  Now it’s all sorted and it’s hard to believe that all that fabric, when folded, takes up about a third of the space it once did.


Flinders Lane

HenriMy grandmother did her dressmaker’s apprenticeship in Flinders Lane in the 1920’s.  Back then it was the hub of the Melbourne rag trade.  Little evidence of that industry remains at street level today.  However, if you go into the Nicholas Building on the corner of Flinders Lane and Swanston Street you will find a few hidden gems.

One such place is Harveys.  It’s the only place I know in Melbourne that sells patternmaking card and paper by the metre.  Every now and then two year old Henri and I make the pilgrimage there to stock up on patternmaking supplies.  Harveys caters to the tailors with a lovely array of linings, trims, buttons, paddings and other intriguing pieces that I can only guess are used to line the waistband of men’s trousers, pad shoulders of jackets, etc. 


It is wonderfully old world.  They even present you with your purchases in brown paper packages tied up with string!  I’m sure it hasn’t changed much since my grandmother’s day.  I just love it!

What a week

A male model has been hanging out in my kitchen for the last couple of days.  “Why?” you ask.  “Why not”, I say.  Along for the ride is an art director, stylist, makeup artist, lighting technician, photographer, photographer’s assistant, location agent, etc, etc.  Our house has been taken over by a photographic crew.  They are shooting a financial institution’s product brochure and our house is being used as the backdrop.

It makes for a chaotic week when the editorial I was expecting interstate in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph appeared on the weekend.  I realized it had gone to print when a higher than usual number of orders came through the website on Sunday - normally a quiet day of the week for online purchasing.


So my seamstress and I have been busy turning little piles of fabric into completed orders.


And I dropped in on my Melbourne manufacturer this morning.  My summer range is underway.  Here is a rather uninteresting photo of the lay plan for one of the dresses I have in production.  Under the paper are about 20 layers of different fabrics.  The appliance in frame is the industrial strength rotary cutter. 


I will post a photo of the finished dress in the weeks to come.

Vintage treasure

Vintage_shirt_dress_2A while ago a school friend of mine presented me with the most amazing gift ever.  It was a huge bag of vintage sewing patterns from a seamstress aunt of hers. 

My friend does not sew herself so they weren’t of any value to her.  Although I thanked her profusely and more than once at the time, I don’t think she realized what a fabulous gift she had given and how much I value them.  These patterns are treasures.  They are from the 50s, 60s and 70s and there are so many fabulous designs I don’t quite know where to start.

The owner of these patterns obviously liked shirt dresses as there are 5 or 6 great shirt dress patterns.  Here's one that I think is particularly cute.  The sleeveless one (with a belt) would be good for summer.  By the time I’ve ‘townmousified’ it there will be little resemblance to this pattern but there might be a future range addition that started its journey from this picture.

Change of tack

Back in 1999 I was lucky enough to travel with husband Will on one of his business trips to Italy.  Will exports Australian and NZ wool and some of his key customers are a group of Italian weavers and spinners concentrated around a town called Biella in the Italian Alps north of Turin.  Some revered names in fashion are based in the Biella region: Zegna, Cerruti, Loro Piana, Agnona, and the list goes on…  To someone like me who is obsessed with textiles, it’s a fascinating part of the world.

Reda_fabric While in Biella I went on a tour of a mill that produces arguably the finest fabrics in the world.  I loved every second of that tour and I got quite a rush seeing beautiful Prince of Wales check coming off one loom, fine grey flannel coming off another.  It was a highlight of that trip.  I would even go as far as to say that it was a life changing event.

Fast forward a few weeks and I was lying awake at 3am in Melbourne due to jetlag and pondering the curious fact that a tour of a textile mill was that exciting to me.  So that’s what got me thinking that if textiles had the ability to make my heart beat faster I clearly needed to be working with them.  A few weeks after that I quit my job in a law firm marketing department and enrolled in a fashion course.

Now I never turn back the invitation to tour a factory.  A more recent visit to the headquarters of a leading American fashion brand will have to be the subject of a future blog entry.

English_cut_3 What got me thinking about that event was reading a favourite blog – English Cut. I love Thomas’ blog because of the enthusiasm he has for his craft.  He provides a fascinating window into an industry steeped in history.  I loved his entry about the cutting shears (pictured) passed down the line from one great master tailor to another.  If I was 18 again I’d be heading off to Saville Row and knocking on every door begging for an apprenticeship.  It sounds like heaven to me.

Scrap happy

Often we come back from a weekend at the beach after dark on a Sunday evening.  We bathe and feed the boys there and they fall asleep in their pyjamas during the car trip home.  Then we carry them into bed asleep.  It makes for a much more relaxed arrival home.  The only problem is, a Melbourne house without any heating over a few days is freezing!  So it got me thinking that a few hot water bottles would be rather handy to warm up cold beds for sleeping boys.

So I dived into my scrap box yesterday evening and came up with these. 


The linen is leftover from skirt production and the other fabrics... well, I have no end to my supply of other fabrics.


Which led to another exercise – getting on top of the fabric situation.  When I mentioned my two boxes of scraps the other day that was just the tip of the iceberg.

I have all my rolled fabric in the corner of my studio (this basket was overflowing before I took all my new summer fabrics to my manufacturer the other week).

Then on the armoire shelf there is my fabric on flat bolts. And in the bottom drawer of the armoire are the shirtings.

The worst one is the basket under my patternmaking table that I throw all scraps into – kind of the “I don’t know what to do with this fabric but I’ll keep it anyway” box.  But this did produce the fabric that went into the hot water bottle covers.  I’m quite happy with these creations so the hoarding proved worthwhile.

So when my customers called on the studio this morning they found me knee deep in fabric and covered in threads.

Creche Bag preparation


Chefs call it “mise en place”, a French term for having all your ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, grated, etc. before you start cooking.  That’s what I am doing in the studio this morning.  I’ve been cutting crèche bag components so that when the orders come in, much of the preparation is done.

A few of my crèche bags have gone to Sydney to be photographed at the request of a stylist.  I have been told to expect some editorial in mid June.  So I am battening down the hatches, so to speak, in preparation for maybe a flood, or maybe a trickle of orders.  That’s the thing about editorial – one never knows what result it may bring.  We shall wait and see.


Doe, ray, me, far, sew…

My favourite scene from The Sound of Music was the one in which the children and the governess were hanging from the trees as their father and the Baroness drove along the road beneath them.  One reason why I loved it so much is because the idea of wearing matching outfits fashioned from curtain fabric was a concept that really appealed to the young seamstress in me.

I’ve taken a leaf out of Sister Maria’s book and used up some leftover fabric from my sewing studio curtains.


The fabric is a pure linen with botanical motifs in four lovely, wintery colours.  I made this bag a while ago and hadn’t used it much.  But now that the weather is colder I’m wearing these colours a lot more – chocolate and grey – so it’s getting a lot more use.

Coincidently I was chatting to the distributor of the fabric yesterday.  She knows I’m a lover of fabric and tempted me with the news that they’ve just tidied up their stockroom and have lots of fabric lengths to get rid of.  Often they are a few metres long and used in the showroom’s window displays – a good length for making into various objects.  I think I’ll be paying her a visit on Tuesday.

A good day


Yesterday I dropped into my favourite fabric shop and picked up this.

Result_2After being inspired by this top, I did a trial run of the pattern in some old fabric.  I was happy with the fit so I had it in mind that, rather than plain white, an interesting print might be a good choice.

Instead of getting on top of work today I’ve been distracted by my own dressmaking, which doesn’t often happen.  At any rate, this is the result. 

Now that I have that out of my system it’s back to children’s wear.