Sunday, February 16, 2014

All things purple and lush

This round up post, another long catching-up type of post, brings together several projects I've worked on in the past months. I must admit it's been a trying period and yet, somehow, when I'm at my lowest I manage to create better than ever before. Perhaps, it's because it feels, more than ever before, that your life/livelihood really depends on it. Perhaps because when only very little joy remains in the pursuit of other things, the safest option is to stick to that one thing that troubles you least. And so I sew and make things because it is easier than breathing, easier than sorting out my bank balance, so much easier than socializing and a bit more socially acceptable than staying in bed all day eating pie/cake.

Other than the obvious 'list of things I made' purpose, I hope that the next couple of photos manage to channel something a bit more substantial with regards to the responsibilities of consumption. No pressure, it's just something I really care about, the driving force behind what I do, if you will. I wish I had more time on my hands to rant on a bit more constructively about it - instead, I derive consolation from the fact that I kind of lead by example. So the idea is to buy less and invest a little bit more and by more I mean attention and thought rather than money. True, money makes it easier to acquire quality, however, this late in history (because from where I'm standing it feels as if it's quite late) it is easier to come across valuables that cost next to nothing. Value is ultimately the result of the amount of time, thought and energy you're prepared to invest in an object or experience - and there goes my 2c worth of algebra for the day.

I start off with this. A custom purple dress I made for another Maria
every panel that made up this strapless princess-line dress was
individually covered in pleated chiffon 

A sea of pins and hours of steaming later, and the dress started taking
the desired shape. We're talking about days of work here - I'm lucky I
managed to stop and take some pictures of the long process and working on
your own doesn't make it any easier. Documenting a process is work in itself
and when you work alone there's only so much you can do.

This is a picture taken at the very last moment, a lovely in-between
 moment when you're about to put the finishing touches on an item.
It's a triumphant moment and yet you feel like delaying it a bit more because
 the moment the label goes on you know that you're parting ways
with something you've come to know so well.

Individually cut and layered guipure motifs frame the bodice of the dress
and cascade down the sides. Possibly one of the most time consuming
projects of 2013 but thoroughly enjoyable. It is an absolute joy to
 work with and for someone so appreciative of all that is
custom/hand made - there's no greater joy for an artisan than
a trusting and respectful client. 

In the same months dedicated to Maria's purple dress,
I was entrusted Donnah's purple coat,
an old purchase which needed re-fitting,
shaping and some embellishing. 

Some alterations take longer than predicted, and this is a case in point.
Sometimes, whilst working, you realize that stopping half way simply
isn't an option. The reward for giving your all is a very personal
and untranslatable thing, in fact, I often find it difficult to explain
the amount of pleasure one can find in snipping away at delicate lace,
pinning it in place and carefully stitching it on by hand.
Oh well, here it is.. I managed to watch all three seasons of The Borgias
whilst finishing off this coat and I have a feeling that
that's somewhat evident in the finished product.

This may not be purple, but it certainly is lush.
A lacy 60s inspired mini-shift dress with matching under dress
constructed out of a considerably larger dress worn for special occasions
by Luisa's mother a couple of decades back. I carefully cut up the
original dress; raised the hem-line by applique-ing a border of lace,
stitching it on by hand and re-shaped the original full and gathered mutton
sleeves into shorter bell shaped sleeves.
Always a sucker for dresses with sentimental value
Always happy to be working on reviving old clothes.


In fact, here's another one of two similar projects I carried out for Elaine
- that is, transforming prized pieces from the wardrobes of older relatives,
updating styles and helping out with giving a second lease on life to items
of clothing that have been relegated to the dark recess of overflowing wardrobes.
The material on this piece was a joy to work with - only rarely do I come
 across such decadent metallics nowadays, so working on it was
educational in more ways than immediately evident.

It pains me to know that most dresses I've worked on have
probably been to more and better parties than I ever will!
But I rarely allow the envy colour my work ..  only rarely

And now on to something completely different ...

Whilst working on this piece, the hours ticked by and
overshadowing all concerns for the finished product ...

'Hope I've understood what Lara wanted'
'And if I did understand, hope that what I'm making is it'
'Oh god, hope this isn't too flowery'
'Goddamit, I need some wine if I plan to hand stitch all of this by hand'
'But wait, wine slows me down and gives me wobbly fingers'
'Aaa i'm loving how it's turning out, but will Lara like it?'
'Ok, this is too much, I over did it'
'Sue me, I love it, I love over-the-top, Lara knows I'm over-the-top'
'aaa more wine yes please thank you very much'
'midnight? MIDNIGHT? but it was 7pm a minute ago'
'eh so pretty, so much prettiness')

So, overshadowing all of these concerns was the thought, or hope if you will,
that this piece would set the tone and standard for the year/s to come:
one-off pieces, couture-hours, painstaking work that few others are willing
to put into this kind of work/recognise in mine/and ultimately purchase for themselves.
Call it crazy business-sense .. but this is what I LOVE
and hope to do for the rest of my life.

Must admit I couldn't be prouder 
a) to have been entrusted this in the first place
b) to have, after months of deliberation, made this of it
A renovated headpiece that started out as an already pretty good-looking,
albeit slightly unloved, object; (following Lara's orders)
went on to become something quite unique intended to hug articulately
set curls just like she likes to sport them!

So one saturday night, I stayed in with a movie, some wine,
a load of pins, and a steaming iron. I disassembled the whole piece and
constructed the dome like structure from scratch, hand stitched the lace motifs
which I had individually cut from a mesh-like off-cut ..
and then ..
suddenly ..
2am happened and I couldn't stop smiling as I stumbled into bed.

NOW, I must get back to my sewing pile, but before I leave .. here are a couple of favourite snapshots (some purple and mostly lush) from my last visit to Brighton and London. I recall the sprawling greenery and steamy fragrance of the Kew Gardens greenhouses as well as 'the frozen-over toes' effect on Brighton pier with fondness. It was a wonderful week or so .. but now I must get back to some serious work and not let the wonderful prospect that is visiting Japan distract me! (*YAAAY JAPAN I'M COMING ermahgerd!!!) 

See more, Love more and Keep more and for longer!
and now, I'll definitely up, up and away x

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A bridal round-up and some residue fever

A fair warning: this is a long post and most definitely not for the faint hearted.
Proceed only if white organza and ivory guipure have the power to set your heart aflutter.
Best avoid if ..

you know what, I take that back
why avoid? 

I too have no intention of getting married any time soon, but love a nice dress and a party as much as the next 'dress and party lover'. 

So here goes.. some words and photos from weddings I was lucky enough to work on in the past year but found little or no time to discuss in full once the dresses left the building .. ah! the joys of retrospective blogging!

Anne-Marie's crisp white and lavender scented December wedding 

credit: valentina lupo photography

This is, I admit, a favourite. This dress is everything I dreamt it would be from top to bottom, bringing together some recurring obsessions and more current design interests such as the spartan and monastic cuts of 1950s Balenciaga married with the detailed floral motifs of vintage Lanvin, Poiret's theatrical peplums and Vionnet's bias flow. I had made dresses for Anne Marie before and we'd come to realise that we did appreciate very similar traits and qualities in dresses (that kind of context and prep is always a plus) but a gown as special as a wedding gown, presents an exciting blank slate and so over the course of one year and following several sketching sessions, the initial idea for a cocktail length puff-ball bridal dress turned into a longer, slender and somewhat sleeker silhouette. At this point, I dreamt up around ten options (yeah I was on a roll, sketching-fever if you will) and lo and behold Anne Marie chose my absolute favourite from the lot. We then shopped for the right shade of crisp white satin and matching organza (fast becoming my favourite material) .. we discussed and sketched every little detail in advance: from the head-dress and veil combo to the size of the floral wreath and the size/shape/colour of the beading. Thankfully we seemed to be on the same style-page from the outset even though the first source of inspiration (ie. Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby which I still hate :p) behind the design-process remained a bone of contention till the very end. In any case, I remain most grateful for the opportunity to create a personal and humble interpretation of a DECO bridal gown just as it appeared in my dreams .. I now know that such opportunities are extremely hard to come by.

some sketches, the organza over-dress sitting patiently on its dummy before
the first fitting and a matching ring-cushion 

one last shot of the bridal veil and beading on the sleeves during the last fitting.

a spray of pearl and glass beads .. looks like lemonade fizz, takes much much longer to pour;
sewing by hand gives you the control to create and adapt as you go along but it is
back-breaking work which truly tests your love for the craft.

Every flower created individually, by hand, with circle upon circle of crisp organza, satin, crepe-satin and chiffon.
The green ones were created for the bridesmaids' dresses, thus bringing the floral leitmotif
full circle (closeups to follow).

... hours and hours ...

... upon hours of careful hand-stitching and beading + several cups of coffee later!

And the decidedly marine-inspired fan head-piece with pearl and crystal spray beading to match the sleeves -
similarly time-consuming work and equally as satisfying a result.

Here are two shots of all the dresses in action ..
can't wait for more detailed snaps from the big day!

Lal's balmy June wedding and a dress re-visited 

Back in June 2012 I replied to a facebook message from a person I had never met before asking me whether I could possibly have a look at a beaded and embroidered 60s wedding dress which needed some tlc before it made it down the aisle the following year. So I said yes (because 'yes' is the only answer to such a propsal) and I drove with driving instructor in tow (didn't have my license back then) to said person's house, walked up a steep hill on a typical August mid-day and finally I made it to the breezy and shady front garden of the house at the top of the hill and the person behind the message turned out to be Caroline or rather 'Lal' - Lal of the two dresses/countries not one, Lal whose circle of friends in Malta overlapped with mine and yet somehow we had never met, Lal who ultimately went for the most precious and sentimentally-charged gown I ever laid eyes on. Because you see, when I entered the room where the said 60s dress (a stunning and absolutely precious dress in its own right) was laid out on a bed, I couldn't help being distracted by the other dress Lal had brought out for me to see. Her mother's wedding dress, a long vintage guipure shift dress with detachable train (satin bows and all) by a local and much revered (yet sadly now defunct) couture house  Mme Manfre. This was to be her wedding dress. Months later, following the unfortunate passing of the bride's mother, the choice of dress started to resonate on so many other levels and the pressure to do the dress justice sky-rocketed. I was to cut open the 3/4 length sleeves and use the individual guipure motifs to lengthen the dress by a couple of inches, create a new neckline with a V-dip at the back, replace the old zippers and permanently attach the stately oval train to the dress. The dress was to then travel across the continent to qualified dry-cleaners and fly back to Malta for it's second wedding ceremony. Some people don't live and travel half as much as this dress has! In conclusion, I admit I have very fond thoughts attached to this dress-saga .. and to this day I consider myself very grateful for being allowed to participate in such a wonderful tale!

credit: Suzey Ingold

As low at the back as one's allowed to go without raising a priest's eyebrow or two

*dreamy (and slightly panic-inducing) label* ... anxiety of influence much?!
This is a shot of my after-hours working table - cutting and trimming down of the individual guipure leaves in preparation for the morrow's list of alterations - with time, only the fondest of memories remain.
Somehow thankless tasks like these take on a magical aura of bliss!

Following all the alterations executed entirely by hand, we were both crossing fingers that
the maverick chemists/drycleaners would deliver the goods as promised.

credit: Tamsin Valentino and Sophie von Trapp
... on the day!


I was also entrusted both the flower girls' dresses - simple, summery and full skirted raw-silk dresses with a bow at the back  and the two bridesmaids' haircombs in matching raw silk, organza and pearls. The zesty and floral colour scheme was just perfect for the season!

And some beautiful shots of the bride seen here in front of a framed photo of her mother in the same dress .. x
credit: Matthew Mirabelli

... with the cutest two ...
 credit: Matthew Mirabelli

... and ultimately, with the chosen one
credit: Matthew Mirabelli

Becky's classy October wedding troupe and party dress

credit: Stephen Lynch photography

I couldn't help wondering, as I sat down to hem all three of these matching bridesmaid dresses in ivory chiffon - how can one village spew forth so much beauty! ;)
This Siggiewi wedding troupe made up of sisters, cousins and the best of childhood friends opted for the right degree of Hollywood glam and decided to keep it classy from beginning to end - I respect that you see, so I couldn't help mentioning it. It would have been dreadful to have to work, for so long, on something that is overdone or god-forbid on the gaudy side of glam - so, yes, I'm basically of the opinion that we should applaud 'good glam' because it'll save humanity a lot of pain in the long run! The young and effervescent (yes, after deliberation, that is the perfect adjective) bride wanted classic one-shoulder and off-shoulder dresses in breezy ivory to match her own wedding dress for her glamorously tanned and polished entourage - no fuss, no excessive bling, just slender and classy. So I took a leaf from Madame Gres' goddess-worthy draping and kept it simple. 

red-carpet material, in my humble humble opinion 

a retrospective sketch
following a wedding it usually takes me a couple of days to get it out of my system and start
creating anew so I sometimes sit down and sketch the dresses afresh.
It gives me something practical to do as well as an excuse for some much-needed introspection.

The bride also wanted a second surprise dress for the wedding reception .. a figure hugging, bias-cut and backless crepe-satin dress in icy white with a beaded trim all around the neckline.
Ever so typical of me, before handing the dresses over to the bride I forgot to take a photo of the finished piece so I guess you'll just have to take my words for it..
it fit her like a glove, attracted the expected level of surprise from the groom, and allowed Becky enough freedom to dance the night away as per plan!

last words: love them or hate them (and secretly still love them) weddings are powerful rituals.. they present the perfect backdrop for happy memories between families and friends, have the power to make or break existing social ties whilst cementing newer and stronger ones .. but overall, taken in one's stride and with the required pinch of salt, even the most stressful of run-ups to the big day will, in time, turn into the fondest of memories. 

That said, I still insist I do not want the experience for myself. Having the ability to sew the dress of my dreams has only turned me into the pest-friend who keeps dropping hints to close friends (and some random and very surprised acquaintances) to get married and throw a damn party .. because love is good and parties are just GREAT!

so here endeth the bridal-saga post

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hello 2014 ..

I've promised myself change for the coming year. 
Because change is essential to a well-rounded and varied life, I think.

On the brink of 26, I find myself in a better position than ever before to start taking some much needed and postponed decisions. I don't mind what I've done so far, in fact I'd like to do more of it, but better; and better requires a different setting, format and route.

But for now, I'll only be sharing some pictures of my last biggish project. Because, fuck chronology ..

Areola Treat's Lisa commissioned a snazzy and glittery cape to wear on stage and practically gave me carte-blanche to turn a bag-full of tinsel curtains in gold and hot pink into a NYE-stage-worthy piece. Cue 70s glam rock, Ziggy Stardust costumes in the V&A archives, Liz Taylor's painted and powdered Cleopatra etc etc. I basically wanted to create a cape that would as easily jump the queue at Studio54, make it on to Bowie's nostalgic rail of personal craft favourites as well as into Noel Fielding's wardrobe for the second series of Luxury Comedy.

The collar I moulded out of glued and threaded layers of gold leather strengthened by recycled prints of Mdina watercolours I had lying about the house in gold wooden frames that deserved to frame better things! The first gold tinsel layer was laid on one strand at a time to ensure an even and flat spread that doubles over the shoulder area for volume. 

The collar I cut  out of leather scraps using tiny scissors and whatever was left of my waning eyesight after the second double layer of hot pink tinsel went on - again, one strand at a time, whilst listening to some inspiring music to urge the process on. Tip 1: dancing and gluing can be hazardous to eyes/hair/cat. Tip 2: place cats in a safe place before trimming tinsel to size - cats love tinsel-rain too much for their own good.

... and now we wait for photos of the cape as worn on stage for last nights NYE concert celebrations.

Some last words: welcome 2014 and bring on more fancy capes, travel opportunities to far-away lands, more time consuming projects, time for reading more books about great people's work, welcome all that and more. 2013 lessons were enough to last me a couple of years so I feel absolutely good to go. But first, some more rest and much needed detox.

Later on in the week I'll hopefully be posting more detailed posts about the sewing projects that have shaped my second half of 2013. Time permitting I'll even share some photos from my last holiday - the first holiday to teach me what relaxation is all about. In the meantime I'll be off to tackle the rest of my festive reading material ie. Balenciaga: The Couturier's Couturier, Pattern Magic, King of Fashion: The Autobiography of Paul Poiret and some more texts along those lines.

For the moment, I'll just dream some more until it really hits me that it's already the 1st of January.