Frocks, Tales and Tea :: Jennifer Irwin, costume designer

Oh wow!  We had a wonderful day at Frocks, Tales and Tea with Jennifer Irwin!

Following on from our successful Frocktails event in February, I created this newest event, Frocks, Tales and Tea, as a chance to hear from someone inspirational...and give everyone a chance to wear something different to a cocktail dress.  Any excuse to sew, eh! And what better partner than Sydney Craft Week!
Australian costume designer Jennifer Irwin’s career spans 36 years designing for drama, opera, dance & ballet as well as the largest spectacular events ever staged in Australia.
Photo supplied by Jennifer
To quote her bio....
Jennifer was nominated for Best Costume Design 2016 AACTA Awards for her work on SPEAR the feature film. Jenny designed the costumes for Dirty Dancing, the musical, still playing to packed audiences worldwide after 16 years. Dirty Dancing broke all pre box office records for any show ever staged on London’s West End.
Costume commissions in Australian include 36 ballets Sydney Dance Company, 26 years repertoire for Bangarra Dance Theatre, multiple works for Sydney Theatre Company, The Australian Ballet, Melbourne Theatre Company, Belvoir, Royal New Zealand, Australian Dance Theatre, West Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet & Opera Australia. Jennifer designed costumes for the Awakening segment of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, co-designed all the costumes for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony & the official ceremony commemorating the Federation of Australia 2001.
Jennifer is very carismatic with so much knowledge and just impressed us so much. She is chatty, friendly and very generous with information and regaled us with lots of stories

The costume industry in Australia is very small and most of Jennifer's career has grown through her relationships, most notably with Graeme Murphy and Stephen Page.  Most of her work at the moment is through Sydney Opera and Bangarra Dance Company

Stephen Page of Bangarra and Jennifer (photo supplied by Jennifer)
To highlight the small industry, Jennifer designed the costumes for the Dirty Dancing Musical which has broken many records and she is very open to the fact that this is where most of her income still comes from. And she is proud of all that it has achieved.

Jennifer brought along many costumes from Bangarra Dance Company and we referenced them when we talked about her process.  Generally, she will collaborate with the director and the set designer for how she will design her costumes.  As you can imagine, she has a lot more creative freedom in designing for Bangarra than, for instance, Sydney Opera.

In fact, she sews most of the costumes for Bangarra herself and always tries to make a costume herself for other productions that come with a wardrobe team.

Jennifer also explained about how she is always on the look out for new techniques and how she can use lighting and the set to make her costumes dramatic.  This picture (credit to Bangarra) illustrates that point perfectly.  This skirt was laser cut from lycra and provided the shadow effects beautifully.  Interestingly too, this is probably the most "dangerous" costume Jennifer has ever designed as those holes can catch a finger or a toe which might lead to a dancer hurting themselves and even ending a career.

Terrain from Bangarra Dance Company (Photo supplied by Jennifer, taken by Greg Barrett)
Jennifer's respect of the Indigenous culture and of the dancers themselves is evident in her designs.  For Bangarra performances, the entire backstage area is covered in plastic and huge pots of ochre are laid out.  The dancers, once dressed, smother themselves in ochre and Jennifer is happy to stand back and watch the dancers themselves bring more life to the costume with the application of the traditional ochre.

Photo supplied by Jennifer
Also the costumes must withstand all that dancing night after night and rigours of washing to remove all the ochre!  Jennifer brought along this costume with her and we could see how it was made to take all that was throw at it!

Terrain by Bangarra Dance Company (Photo supplied by Jennifer, taken by Greg Barrett)
I was particularly taken with this costume from the Korean Ballet production of Giselle, even though we didn't see it in the flesh.  I find this costume so breathtaking....but even more so to know that it was made OVERNIGHT!   Jennifer designed and fitted the garment and then it was made, including all those feathers, by the opera's wardrobe department overnight.  Incredible!  I don't think Jennifer could believe it either!

Giselle by Korean Ballet (photo supplied by Jennifer)
Jennifer told us what a rush and joy it was to work for 8 months on the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympic games.  As a Kylie fan girl, I was impressed with Jennifer's corset for her but what I didn't know was that Jennifer hand made Cathy Freeman's iconic suit she wore to light the fire!

Photos supplied by Jennifer
All in all it was a really great event and we all had a lovely time.  We sipped on lovely sparkling wine when we arrived and our afternoon tea was delicious.  We enjoyed a selection of finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and lemon tarts with an impressive selection of teas, and coffee, which I needed by the end of it!

Thank you to everyone for coming along.  I enjoyed seeing you all and meeting new sewing friends.

Here are just two of the lovely compliments I was given:

"I think I've thanked you already - but yesterday was great.  The 2 friends i brought had a fab time and are both looking forward to the next event!!" Stephanie told me in an email. 

And...."I really enjoyed the afternoon talk. It was wonderful to listen to someone so free with their creativity.  I find that I am all a bit neat and tidy and matchy matchy at times and should try and be a bit more free form with my ideas! My sewing friend Sylvia had a lovely time also and as expected, you were such a gracious hostess. " said Alison.

And of course, I can't do an event without giving a wonderful goodie bag.  So I wanted to thank the sponsors of the goodie bag:

The Fabric Store
Australian Sewing Guild
Maai Design
Pattern Fantastique
Style Arc
Selvedge Fabrics
Chalk & Notch
Closet Case Patterns
Megan Nielsen
Sew over it
Guthrie & Ghani
Skein Sisters
Helens Closet
Sew Active Fabrics
Cosy Project
Tools by Hollie
Daily Like

And I even made something for the goodie bag!  I came into a stack load of sheer fabrics which I didn't really know what to do with.  Then I realised that they would be PERFECT for reusable fruit and veg bags.  So I got cutting and overlocking and I'm pleased to say they work perfectly.  So I hope everyone is enjoying those...I will do up a tutorial very soon for them!

Thank you to Mr UsefulBox again for all his help and for taking all the lovely photos.  You can see them all on Instagram - you can follow me while you are there!

I actually had quite the loss of sewjo before the event as I didn't know what to make.  I finally settled on some new look wide leg pants, a linen Tessuti Leni top and a freshly made Genoa tote with Ken Done lining.  I will write up a blog post about that soon!

I'm so pleased that everyone had a wonderful time.  I had a wonderful time with you and bringing this event to you.  I am determined to get the Sydney sewing community a bit more happening!!! 

So on that note, stay tuned for Frocktails 2018.  Tickets will go on sale on November 14!  

Looking forward to seeing you at our next event or workshop!

Me Made: Chalk and Notch Fringe Dress

The Chalk and Notch Fringe Dress is just one of those dresses...the one that you see and immediately have to make.

I've been wanting to do more pattern testing lately so I jumped at the chance to test for the ever lovely Gabriele of Chalk and Notch.  So here she is, the newly released Fringe Dress!

I made the dress in View B with the closed front, cuffed sleeves and a tie from the front darts.  The other options is a buttoned down front with a tab on the sleeves.  The beauty of this pattern is that it can also be made into a blouse which, judging by other testers versions, is going on my to sew list as well.

I made a size 10 but made a couple of adjustments.  As I normally need to do, I added 10cm to the length of the skirt and 2.5cm to the length of the bodice.  But other than that the fit was perfect.  It does however, the waist does feel tight to get on over you head but then fits and feels perfect on your waist. 

I choose to pop the tie back into the front darts as I felt I needed a bit more waist definition but you could just as easily add these to the back darts and wrap the tie around the front of your waist. 

The fabric is from deep in my stash that I have been saving for a dress like this.  It's a cotton voile from the op shop Fabric, Needlecraft and More in Sydney. I'm loving the colours!  And I managed some mighty fine pattern matching through the centre front bodice.  Although, you could easily lay this pattern piece on the fold, removing the seam allowance.  

Oh and did I mention it has pockets!  Who doesn't love a dress with pockets? And in the perfect spot too! 

I highly recommend this dress to advanced beginners as it's easy but takes some construction and pattern laying knowledge.  I am actually thinking of using this in one of my upcoming classes!  

The details
Size: 10
View: B Dress
Adjustments: added 10cm to the length and 2.5cm to the bodice.
Fabric: Cotton Voile
Buy pattern here: Chalk and Notch

You can see more tester versions here. 


Learn to sew with UsefulBox

Me Made : Frocktails dress Vogue #1289

I have to admit, I had trouble deciding what to make for our Frocktails event.  There was simply too much choice!

I initially had my eye on a sequinned, figure hugging number but then thought I would challenge myself with sewing from my stash. 

Combing through the patterns, I shortlisted a couple but after a discussion over a cocktail with Maaike from Maaidesign, we settled upon the Vogue V1289 by Pamela Rolland pattern. 

Now I've used this pattern before...I used it to base my wedding dress off.  So I was familiar with it and confident I could sew it up in time.  Because of course, time was ticking and I was being indecisive. 

However, the indecisive theme kept continuing as I purchased some lovely inky coloured lurex from The Fabric Store and then found this taffeta/silk in my stash!  Again, I consulted friends and we decided on the teal stash buster!  


Now we came to the cutting which let's just say didn't go well!  All the pieces are flat lay and single piece only.  Silly old me got a bit distracted by the block fusing of the bodice pieces and stupidly layed the bodice pieces wrong side up and the skirt piece right side up (yes, the skirt is one piece)....leaving with the pleats not matching at the waistband.  You can see here that the pleats are meant to meet....mine are opposite.  Oh well, I'm hoping none of the those eagle eyed Frocktails ladies noticed!  But I bet some did!

Never mind, onwards and upwards, I didn't have any more fabric to cut new bodice pieces so I just did the best I could.  I think I pull it off ok! Well, I'm hoping so anyway!

The pattern came together really nicely.  I enjoyed how the pleats folded up nicely and made for a flush waistband.  I really enjoyed sewing the strappy side of the bodice.  And I felt that fitted me well. 

As for adjustments, I did toile this so I had a good idea of what I needed to change.  I cut a size 12 from the pattern, reduced the side seams under the arms (as I always need to do with Big4 patterns), I shortened the bodice to make my waist more cinched and I lengthened the hem by 10cm (as I always need to do!).

I think I have made this dress enough times now, but I would reduce the gathers at the shoulders dramatically as that bodice pieces was far too puffy and bulky.  I would also make sure the fabric is the right way up for all pieces!  D'oh! 

I would however, consider using the skirt and the strap side of the bodice again, and make the bodice symmetrical.  I think that would work well.  And possibly use more of a drapey fabric. 

I also made my sister, Liz, a dress.  It's the Salme Olsen dress.  I have made a few of these as sun dresses and they are super quick and satisfying to make up.  This pattern and fabric was in my stash as well! Challenge accepted...twice!

All the details....

Pattern: Vogue #1289 by Pamela Rolland

Size: 12

Adjustments: Added 10cm to length, shortened bodice by 3cm, shortened the strap by about 10cm!, reduced the neckline on the gathered bodice, reduced the side seam at underarm.

Fabric: A silk taffeta in teal.  Was in the stash, not sure where I got it from.

What I would change for next time:  Reduce the gathers at the shoulder seam dramatically, take in the waist a little bit more.

How easy was it to make:  An intermediate level sewer would be about to make this up fairly simply. The adjustments were tricky given the pleats and gathers.

You can also check out all about the Frocktails event here.  If you would like to join us next time, please sign up to the newsletter and stay tuned for more info!

Caz xx

Sydney Frocktails : A fabulous night

Just last Saturday, 70 of Sydney's sewists were out in force in all their finery! And what a night we had!

Frocktails is an event, most notably held in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, where sewists have a chance to get together, make new friends and importantly, sew something to wear. 
I can tell you we all had a lovely time! We sipped cocktails, we patted each other's fabrics and we met some lovely people. 

I was just so impressed with the turnout, the calibre of outfits and just how damn lovely everyone is! And so impressed we had visitors from Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane.  Thank you for taking the time and expense to join us!

Oh boy the outfits! We had handmade dresses, self drafted patterns, some fab hand stitching, matching fabric, matching dresses, setaculars and even a pair of handmade shoes!  We are a clever bunch! And all that fabric to touch and feel, from brocade to cotton sateen to sheers and even lace. Here are just a few pics of some fab outfits! Check out #sydneyfrocktails on Instagram for all the pics of the night!

A trio of The Acton Dress by In the Folds! @sewingwithkate, @inthefolds, @maaidesign

@kbfield and @myzeemo
Me! @usefulbox - more on my dress to come!

I was particularly impressed with handful of ladies who came along and didn't know anyone.  You guys are so brave and I'm so pleased that you have now come away with new friends.  I know I have!

The night was held at the Edinburgh Castle Hotel in the CBD and it was a perfect venue for us.  My dress even matched the walls!

Our menu was smoked salmon blinis, Artichoke & feta bruschetta, Goats cheese roulade, Warragul green & potato frittata, Pork & sage sausage roll, Snow crab croquettes, Fish and Chips and Orecchiette pasta.  And we enjoyed a Lawsons Cup, Edi Sprita and Summer mojito cocktail.  Delicious. 

Thanks to all our sponsors, our prize draw was nothing short of impressive. Thank you so much to the lovely and kind sewing community.  I am so pleased to have been able to be the sewing santa claus on the night. I think it's fair to say that everyone who won a prize was chuffed!

I think it's fair to say that our night was a success and I am so proud of us all. A big thank you to our official photographer on the night, Mr Usefulbox!  He did a great job and was thoroughly enjoying being the only man there!

Let's now start thinking about our outfits for the next night of nights!  Keep October 2017 available!

Here's to the amazing sewing community!

A Me Made Deer & Doe Cardamome dress for Maai Design Blog Tour

I'm really thrilled to be taking part in the Maai Design Blog tour.  Maaike is now stocking a range of See you at Six Fabrics.  And to celebrate, there is a discount code for you at the end of this post..

Here is my contribution to the tour, the Deer & Doe Cardamome dress in The See you at Six Dandelions Blue rayon. I had my eye on this fabric and I'm thankful that I got it in time as it has since sold out!  But never fear, there is plenty more to choose from!

The fabric is beautiful to say the least!  It's very soft, vibrant in colour and has a lovely drape and is a dream to sew with. 

I initially wanted to make either the Tilly & Buttons Marigold jumpsuit or the Sew over It Rosie dress, but I didn't have a lot of time to make this up and didn't want to fiddle with trouser fitting or boning. So I decided on this Cardamome dress which I have been lusting over for a little while. 

Having said that, I wish I had gone with a dress with more of a floaty vibe as the fabric is just so lovely and drapey. 

This pattern was great and the instructions clear.  I have hacked this version up quite a bit by removing the collar and only doing one row of elastic around the waist instead of 4 rows of shirred elastic.  I made a size 38 but I added 4cm to the bodice length and 10cm to the hem length as I often have to do.  And I think those alterations worked well. 

The trickiest part of the make was attaching the yoke as it's topstitched onto the bodice.  That took ALOT of pins! I did use a bit of stay tape around the yoke also which helped a great deal. 

I also made sure that I used a warm-ish iron and pre-washed as there is a 5% shrinkage.  

I am looking forward to wearing more of this easy dress over the summer and I am also planning lots more makes using this fab rayon! 

You can is the 10% discount code you can add to your blogposts: seeyouatsix
This code is valid for the See You At Six collection, and from the 12th of September until the 30th of Sept.

And don't forget to check out all the other fab makes from these lovely sewists and bloggers:

12th of September: Shelley from Bartacks and Singletrack
13th of September: Kate from Sewing With Kate
14th of September: Nicola from Create.nic
15th of September: Anna from Blogless Anna

17th of September: Suz from Sewpony
18th of September: Allison from The Tall Mama
19th of September: Toni from Make It Perfect
20th of September: Suzanne from Dressed in Pretty Little Things
21st of September: Natalie from Sew Outnumbered
22nd of September: Jenya from While She Was Sleeping
23rd of September: Maaike from MaaiDesign

Please excuse my hayfever-ish puffy's that time of year! 

Happy sewing!