One of the reasons I wanted to learn to sew, was the opportunity to celebrate my individuality each morning through my sartorial choices. High street options have always left me cold in both design and quality. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve scoured charity shops for magpie finds, modelling myself on the stylings of Andie and Duckie from my beloved Pretty in Pink. And now, when contemplating new sewing projects, I embrace the challenge of sourcing fabrics to put my own spin on a designer’s vision.
But adulteration for its own sake is not my intent and I’ve recently been seduced by stylistics … just the way they are. Three years into my adventures with stitch is a bit late to get my mits on The Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking and if you’re about to embark on your own sewing journey all I can say is BUY THIS BOOK NOW. Whilst I’m very happy I cut my own teeth in the stable of Yoshiko Tsukiori, I do think I would have garnered basic sewing skills so much quicker, if I’d let Wendy take me by the metaphorical hand.
I’ve been trying to remember when it is I first came across Wendy Ward and I think it’s from her column in Love Sewing magazine. What struck me was how her ethics and values ran through her writing like a piece of rock and of course the fact that she hailed from Sheffield – my hometown of choice. Later we bumped into each other on Instagram through a mutual appreciation of the aesthetic appeal of a dungaree dress. And then finally I got to meet the queen of knits herself, whilst being guided through the makings of a rouched Roewood from A Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts.
What with a bordering on dysmorphic relationship with my bottom half, it’s surprising that I’ve whipped up not one but two of these pencils. And yet, I’m still hankering after that burgundy number on page 15. So when it came to her recent t-shirt workshop at Sew in the City, I took heed and unashamedly recreated her black and white striped boat necked beauty with contrasting solid sleeve bands. It was at that workshop that I came across Wendy’s fishtail skirt and dive-bombed into a love-in with the denim iteration, replete with singular pale blue patch pocket.
I was faced with a dilemma. One direct copy could be passed of as a sincere form of flattery but surely two was artless and lacking in imagination. However, my emotional attachment to the stylings of those hues of blue was so strong that I gave in to Billy Joel’s plaintive serenade and ignored Wendy’s invitation to make the skirt my own. I could have stepped out of the box when it came to the denim but I didn’t and stayed true with 2 metres of this sumptuous indigo bark weave denim from Fabric Godmother. A quick forage through my minimal stash and I came across a remnant of this indigo denim from Minerva for the patch and I was totally good to go.
The fishtail skirt is my fourth pattern from Wendy’s soon to be trilogy, so by now I was well acquainted with the format of her books. I used the chart on page 80 to find the closest measurements to my waist and hips and decided to trace off a size 4, grading into a 3 from hips to waist. My resulting toile was too roomy at the waist, so as per instructions I increased the right hand seam allowance by another 1.5 cm. Fearful of accommodating the bulk of my thighs, I only transferred the 0.75 reduction to my traced pattern pieces at the waist and curved out to the hip.
When I sewed up the skirt proper, the side seams lacked the subtle curve I hoped for and I realised my adjustments had distorted the smooth a-line of the original. I unpicked both the zip and right hand seams and returned to the drawing board. I extended the original 0.75 reduction on each side seam from hip to hem. The denim, with it’s slight stretch, had a more generous fit around the waist than the stiff tablecloth toile, so I took an additional 0.5cm of each side of the waist – this time being more mindful of creating a smooth curve to the hip. I then transferred the changes to the front and back panels of the skirt pieces for a final stitch up.
Despite having to tinker a little with the fit to bridge the disparity between my waist and hips, this skirt came together like a dream. Construction of the fishtail is ingenious and Wendy walks you clearly through each step, resulting in the most beautiful finish. Digging out my walking foot make easy work of stitching the upper centre back seam onto the outside of the skirt. And when it comes to the bias finished hem, my suggestion is to get the kettle on, cue up a podcast and settle in for meditative stretch of sewing. Earlier on in my stitch story, I would have baulked at such a lengthy finishing technique but these days I honestly relish the chance to hone my skills and produce a hem worthy of it’s bearer.
I’d like to say I will be flexing my creative muscle a bit further when it comes to my next iteration of a Wendy Ward pattern. But stop the press – have you seen those trousers on page 40 and 41 – could there be a finer interpretation?! I might just have to accept that this looks set to be an enduring imitation game.