Thursday, 26 March 2015

Sewing School Scoop - Volume 1

Hi and welcome to my Sewing School Scoop blog post! If you hadn't seen I started my first ever sewing course here in Shanghai, through a gorgeous sewing & design collective called Couture Nomad, set up & run by a wonderful bunch of expat women living through Asia! I got to meet Catherine, the founder, this week as I've joined Teacher Muriel's Wednesday class as it's closer to my house. Only a 10 minute bike ride, instead of a 20 minute taxi ride! YAY!

So I thought with my sewing scoop posts, I'll highlight some 'A-ha moments'... because what I'm finding now after 3 classes, it's stuff like "OH THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE"... because for years I've been sewing and cutting and dreaming without techniques to help... so now I'm picking up those finer tuned ideas about sewing. I've found short cuts, neater & tidier ways to create things, already. PLUS, check out that smocking above... did you guys realise how easy as all hell that elastic is to sew with? I DID NOT KNOW THIS.

Ok, so onto my scoop notes:

Bias Binding is quite quick and exact if you use the ruler! I've NEVER used a ruler before with sewing (I did buy a curved one once, but didn't really use it - it's in storage somewhere)! Teacher Muriel has just a really basic and long sewing ruler, and I even used the pencil to mark the 'wrong side' of the fabric. I never use pencils or things. I just use my eyes. And that is why, my friends, my garments are off grain. And often uneven. So pencils, rulers... pin magnet collection thing. I have a very long Shopping List!

I learnt that you cut a square (very evenly measured!), fold in half to make a triangle, press... and then trace your lines and CUT the bias from the folded edge first. Oh and pin the shit out of it if you need to. That way the fabric won't lose it's shape or get off grain. WOW #learningshit to the max. I might have read this somewhere in a 'cut your own bias binding' tutorial, but learning these things from Muriel just helps understand it all!

Manual sewing machines are easy but hard and heaps diffo from the automatic ones. You actually re-learn how sewing works! I did the bobbin tension thing myself here:

My bindings have always been a bit rough, but I don't like facings. Yay for learning bias binding properly! I was also wrapped to see Coletterie's blog post this week (however they show you knit bindings ideas, not woven), because, in Sewing Class I was doing the same thing! For some sample collars, I finally worked out that cutting slits for the curve encourage the binding... and then some different topstitch or handstitch securing ways:

The hand stitching cross over thingie is perfect for when you don't want a topstitch to take away from your print I reckon! My test fabric is pretty funny, just some cheap cotton from my local fabric store (I am so happy to finally find a little shop front in my neighbourhood!) it says 'Frapbois'. I have no idea what that means, but we had to bring something with an obvious front and back.

So then onto yesterday's class, to try my first sewing pattern with the group... I wanted to make a girl's dress (a friend of ours turns 3 this weekend) with my red gingham... and first was to get that stretchy thin elastic to the bobbin & into the bobbin holder thingie!

It was weird at first threading the little bobbin, but I had to help it a lot ... what's that called... to "load the bobbin with elastic"? But once I got in all 'loaded' and then 'loaded' again into the bobbin holder, I was like. I AM AMAZING. Getting stuff right with the manual machine is just so rewarding. It works! And then I quickly did a test of the elastic/smocking thing and it was just so straightforward.

Of course, you have to leave the ends long (I snipped my first attempt) because you pull the thread through to the underside and then just tie thread & elastic together to secure it... but my other 'revelation/mind fuck' moment was when Muriel said you sew this smocking in a big spiral around the tube of the dress... I thought you had to do a row of elastic/thread on the flat fabric, then sew the side seams... and was worried about the overlocker cutting the elastic and it breaking... this may have happened to me a few times before!

But, you just sew the sides, and sew around and around (on the right side!) until you get the width of smocking you'd like! AMAZING

Oh and before I did the side seams, Catherine showed me the really LOVELY curved ruler, to get a nice hem, rather than just a boxy skirt:

Just a little curve on the hem (as it's curved, I turned it under just a little, then again just a little... like less that 1cm ... to get a nice flat top stitch)

And so, my first little dress from Sewing School And my first 'Inside Shot' as now I'm committed to making things look neat inside & out!

It will be just gorgeous on her... she's Australian Mexican, but her dad is European-Australian... they speak English (with an Australian drawl!), Chinese & Spanish. I think the red will be beautiful for summertime!

Have you tried smocking or sewing with elastic before? I'm now thinking I'll use this technique for the top of my boy's trousers for summer... it's so light and comfy rather than just one elastic band... I wonder what it'll look like for a beach dress for me? Maybe I'll try one too.

So my sewing school scoop is probably quite simple for some of you experienced sewing pals... but for me, even after so many years of sewing solo, it just really helps having guidance face to face. I love it! Now I have Mandarin Class & Sewing School, I think my week is pretty set! (And some cocktails planned for tomorrow! ADULT TIME FTW)

Now I have to stress about what to wear to cocktails, I have a red H&M dress up my sleeve, but hoping I can finish a new dress in time!

Hope you're having a great week! And totally appreciate all your comments on my 'Made in China' post!


Monday, 23 March 2015

Made in China: A Creative Series

Hey! How was the weekend!?

Today, I wanna talk about this blog, and maybe some areas where I’d like to take the blog… AND see what you think!

I’m brimming with blog content ideas, and I’m trying not to bombard you with too many too soon (and at the same time try to set up my blog as having regular posts again)… but one thing I’ve noted after being in Shanghai for a short and quick 6 months: There is just SO much creativity and so much create-ing in this town. In the English speaking world, I am overwhelmed, and I’m only seeing these amazing glimpses in the local and (tricky for me, but maybe one day) Chinese speaking Shanghai art & fashion scene. 

So, as I started to plan my sewing projects and to ‘get back’ my sewjo mojo and body love (to make my own clothes & feel happy!) … I have started to also say ‘YES’ to all things, and because I’m not working my usual radio job here in China … I also have the independence and time. For the first time in my life perhaps… to do whatever I want to do.

And I guess, with publishing & choosing blog post content, what do you think about this? Some sewing makes & pattern reviews, & fabric market tours  … of course, I am sewing again and want to show my hand made things (because I will need your feedback on fit issues, and perhaps colour & fabric choices. I have lots of worries now that I’m outside of my vintage/second hand fabric & pattern comfort zone! I’ll show you what I’m talking about soon!) … (back on track! Train of thought is so busy!) So, I’d like to see if YOU’d like to see some of the things in the art/fashion/creative world here in Shanghai? 

Some of the things will be fashion (my first post will be all my photos from a Collection Launch from an established artist - a painter - and a Chinese fashion designer collaboration that I was invited to last week) and maybe design and maybe ethical & local fashion designers… or maybe ethical & sustainable fabrics from China (my big puzzle at the moment and how I’d like to be sewing eventually… as I create my slow fashion world) … 

Obviously, I’m getting more and more excited by being a sewing blogger again… but just wanted to check in with you… 

Have you been reading my blog for a long or short while? What are your favourite blog posts from me? 

Are there sewing bloggers you love, and I don’t read? Please share!

What is the best thing about reading straight up sewing blogs? What's missing from the sewing blog world?

You totally can tell me anything, or nothing, I do love hearing from you… if you’re not into comments, please email veronicadarling @ gmail . com … remove the spaces (if there’s still spammers or whatevers) … as some of you lovely readers have over the years! 

At the moment, I’m just so happy thinking and sewing and writing and instagramming and I want to pique your interest from time to time… I’ve been blogging for a LONG time now, so it seems. So nothing too crazy will happen and anything I do here on the blog, you’ll hear about it long before it does happen. Like eventually I will set up my instead of the blogspot address. Because I did get that registered in 2011. 

*breathing deeply* Because now I have time to do some things just for me again.

After a little drunken chit chat here and there at the fashion launch, I thought about how oftentimes in the western world we think of things that are "Made in China" as being low quality or not as good as local made products (wherever you are in the world, we love locally made stuff, right?) and so I was thinking... we are in China now... there has GOT to be some wonderful & unique things that are 'Made in China'... I will be looking more about fashion, DIY, art, culture and design more than iPhones... and try to get off stereotypes! And so...

My first "Made in China" blog post is accompanied by photos here that are taken on my camera, by a then 4 (almost 5 year old) called Freyja! We’ve met her family here in Shanghai, through friends in Sydney, as they just moved a month or so before us. Freyja’s mum is Olivia Martin-Mcguire, a photographer, and my new Shanghai friend and blogs here.

(photos by Freyja in Shanghai, Aged 4)

*** just a quick note, now I'm about to publish, I'm a bit nervous 'deciding' things for the blog now that I've written all the above. I know you won't mind, and I know it's just me being silly. I keep thinking 'What Do I Know?' I'm just some dickhead who is fine about posting gawky photos of herself, but writing real heart felt passion blogpots, makes me itchy & self aware. ***

(And then you know what, I am passionate about stuff like this, so I can do whatever, right?!)

Love to you and have a great week!!!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Scenes from Shanghai: When We Arrived

We arrived in Shanghai in mid September last year, when all the trees still had their leaves and created this umbrella canopy for us to walk the streets without the sun glare... as it was still very hot. A few days were hot and steamy with a bit of rain.

These freaking trees made me so happy. I had thought and tried to prepare myself that Shanghai was a busy concrete jungle... so I was taking so many photos of the trees when we walked around. WOW! Through the Former French Concession part (and even extending to many other parts of Shanghai) you'll see these trees. I *love* them. Sometimes it feels like a street in Europe, or a quite countryside town instead of a gigantic metropolis. Really.

I had to show you my boy Felix's first taste of the excited Chinese tourists as well... most Shanghai Locals are used to westerners, but we spent Golden Week in town so lots of Chinese tourists were holidaying here too. And he just got so much attention with his super white skin and blonde locks.

'Scenes from Shanghai' will be my weekly blog post about our new home, and I'm loving your notes & comments, so thank you! Any places you wanna see, or any kinda parts of Chinese life, let me know. I have taken SO MANY photos in the last 6 months, as you can imagine, so I'll group together some for you over the next few months.

Have you been to China? Or planning a trip?

I had never been to China before moving here. I am still quite taken aback that this time last year, we were just living our lives in West Footscray without any idea we'd be here now. Every day we're here, I say to myself 'LIVIN'. It's so hard sometimes, but we're really living our lives.

EEP *gulp* WOW.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Voila: Playful Pom Poms

This week, a little boy was born in Shanghai and his parents are new friends of ours. So I made some pom poms to decorate his room. And to play with later.

In Shanghai, there are quite a few knitting haberdasheries in certain areas. There's a shop near my house, but there are several around the Tianzifang area (more on that another time) as well. But I bought this wool from the nearby shop, and had to muddle my way around what I wanted to make and buy because the two lovely shopkeepers didn't speak English so I spoke my basic Chinese and used my translator app for the words I forgot or couldn't say. Luckily they had pom poms in the shop so I could point a lot. 

As you can imagine these were quite straightforward to make, but using the pom pom plastic thingie mum bought me from the shops was MUCH harder. I had to go the old fashioned traditional pom pom way and use 2 pieces of cardboard shaped like a 'C' (have a look at the Mindful Mumma's Post for more) to make it thicker. Sorry mum! They look good and fun!

I've been thinking a lot about my blog design and feel very stuck with where to go with it next.

For ages, I've just used the simple template in blogger and tweaked a bit of code, and added widgets etc. But now I'm kinda of tired of doing it myself! I'm about to transfer to too - VERY exciting since I've had the domain for ages! I feel like the move to Shanghai has prompted me to think of a lot of things... writing, blogging & photography again. Online design is just so TRICKY. But I wonder...

Do you have any tips for transferring over to your own domain? What about making up a new fresh template for your blog?

Let me know your experiences with it!


Monday, 16 March 2015

My First Sewing Class: C'est Bon!

On Friday 13th March, 2015 something very big and very fun happened... and you might have noticed a little ripple in your day too, wherever you live in the world... because all the world's in all the universes aligned up and:

I went to my first ever sewing class in my first ever sewing school! SEWING SCHOOL.

Perhaps, you didn't know but I've NEVER had any sewing tuition... My 'sewing career' began after I moved back to my hometown for my first job at a radio station... and because of my breakfast radio hours... I found myself with oodles of op shopping/thrifting time in the afternoon and collected up great vintage patterns, and fabric (mostly bedsheets with crazy 1960s flowers) and taught myself to sew. It was 2001-2002. Of course, I challenged myself to sew more through various projects... and now....

I have been sewing the same way (but having read ALL the sewing blogs & with a few extra online tutorials showing me bias binding and other ideas) ever since... using shortcuts perhaps that same time but not really knowing a whole lot behind why we do some things...

NOW, however, that I'm having a 'new' look at my sewing life living in Shanghai, I want to get BETTER. And mostly, I want better techniques, so that my clothes last & feel good, but also with the hope that I can draft my own patterns for myself in the future.

So I thought, I should finally take some classes. It's been almost 15 years of self taught sewing! After a bit of googling (or bing-ing & baidu-ing - we are in China after all!) I found COUTURE NOMAD, my new sewing school!

So I packed my bag with the 'good' scissors (from Shanghai's famous knife & scissor shop, I'll let you know about soon) and fabric (cotton, with an obvious 'right' and 'wrong' side!) and some threads and caught a taxi to Muriel's house in Shanghai! My new sewing teacher! I was so excited to meet her, and my fellow classmates, and we all chatted about what we loved about sewing and our backgrounds and for three hours, Muriel showed me all the various seams and hems.

The only photo I took:

Just before I basted around the cardboard template, and pulled the shape of the pocket and topstitched it to my test fabric. I've sewn pockets before, but usually just iron them flat (and without the smooth rounded edges you get with the baste/template)...

SO! I was just so very happy! Meeting my fellow 'nomadettes' and my lovely teacher, I felt very proud of the sewing and creating that I've done already... but feel very happy & excited about some new discipline and maths and sewing for the future.

The most amazing thing though: Everyone speaks French or is French. Teacher Muriel has lived in China for almost 10 years, but is French like a lot of expats in Shanghai ... and I cannot tell you how utterly delightful it was to sit around each sewing, at our own pace, through the techniques and hearing "C'est Bon" repeated around me. It IS good! It's all good. No wonder I didn't go to sewing school before, I had to wait for the universes & worlds to align and meet up for us all to sit around together.

SEW happy! SEW GOOD! I feel very lucky & full of the serendipity.

I wish you a lovely week and can't wait to share more about my Sewing School Slash French Lesson!


Saturday, 14 March 2015

Scenes from Shanghai: The Old

It's the weekend now, and we're up early to go swimming. We joined a 'Health Club' which could be just a gym I guess, but Shanghai has a lot of clubs and clubhouses, and we don't want to go against the grain. SEWING TERM.

Last week, I showed you some of the modern parts of Shanghai, the Pudong Skyline being the most futuristic. Today here are some of my old Shanghai photos, showing the Yu Garden and Qibao (with young girls dressed up in tradition dress - there were dress up shops in Qibao, where you can go and hire costumes, get your hair & makeup done, and have your photo taken) which are some of the older areas of Shanghai. There are some beautiful buildings throughout Shanghai, but some are replicas and just look old... so without a tour guide and not reading any Chinese, I kinda assume these parts are actually old.

Looking on Wikipedia Qibao formed around 900s and Yu Garden is a bit more new made around the 1500s. ARGH everything is so old in China! My house in Australia was built around 1930s and that's when Shanghai was in full swing!

Anyways, hope you've had a great week! I just saw on the social meeds that it was Selfish Sewing Week and I didn't make anything but pom poms for a new baby (I just posted on instagram!) and posted the little bag for my three year old friend. So that doesn't sound very selfish! I DID however, start my first Sewing School Class... and I'll tell you all about that soon! It was so good!!!!!!


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Voila: A Boy's Bag

I made a bag, and it's made of vintage tea towels. Tea towels from the old lovely op shops of my past.

My idea was to bring a few tea towels to Shanghai so I could piece them together in a lovely way for cushion covers for our couch. I still have them cut up, but I just couldn't figure out the 'lovely way' for them to be sewn up. There was a gorgeous market stall at the Rose Street Market in Fitzroy that made lots of things from vintage tea towels, so I've always wanted to try it. I'm just a patchwork type sewing person.

BUT, I gave it a go with the scraps, and made the kangaroo the focus/beginning of whatever this is called. A spiral of scraps, into a patchwork? I'm not sure, I googled scraps and patchwork till the internet broke, and I just settled on whatever I found, and I've since lost the page. (The internet breaks a LOT in China!) You sew onto stiffer backing fabric, the kangaroo bit, then you sew the first scrap (right sides together), then press with the iron, then sew the next scrap, then press. until you kind of get a spiral... It'll work a lot better with a bigger piece ... so maybe they'll make good cushion covers this way. I'm not sure.

We gave it to a little boy we've met here in Shanghai, for his birthday, he's 3! Children seem to like bags!


Monday, 9 March 2015

Wearing: An Urban Turban

This was our first winter in China, so we didn't know what to expect. Shanghai can have snow, maybe just once or twice during the cold season, but looks like we had a few hail or sleet type days but nothing substantial... as it was a warm winter for Shanghai locals! I was FREEZING. It was so different to Melbourne winter, and we needed proper winter coats and thermals as well!

I needed a quick and warm headwear option for Shanghai, and especially one that I didn't need to spend money on... ever the Bargain Betty. And also a fitted one so I didn't lose it riding around town! And while I have knitting needles with me, winter came a little too quickly to knit a turban up (there are so many gorgeous knitting patterns for turbans online) ... so I tried my black headscarf (I usually use it for my pincurl sets) after following a few tutorials online. The red one was a cheapie woolly one from a market and enormous in size!

AND, for my own info, I had to research a bit about cultural appropriation of these urban turbans because I did not want to wear a tied up head wrap or head scarf with it being insensitive to any cultures, and especially to the people of China. And that link is a great piece on appropriation compared to appreciation. So far, I've been give the thumbs up by the people I meet in Shanghai, for my urban turban... lots of people telling me 'very good' and 'big!'.

When I was looking around for ways to secure the old urban turban on my head, I found some GORGEOUS women sharing their ideas, in these tutorials, with several styles and easy explanations:

Fiona at Love Your Tresses -


Nadira and her video:

And these blog photos above are my 'Is My Scarf Secure?' Selfies from around Shanghai.