Monday, May 28, 2012

All pic-nic-ed out!

Yeah we had a good afternoon out picnic-ing in (limits of) Mgarr, celebrating Sarah's birthday! Here are some pictures of the beautiful place we managed to secure for the occasion...

... of the birthday girl herself receiving gifts ...

... of Lara's yummy quiche and fresh rose water lemonade ...

... of the complementary swing ...

... more of the birthday girl as she reads through her birthday cards ...

... of Lara swinging peacefully ...

... of Carla looking picture perfect in her alcove ...

... and one last picture of the colour coordinated  girls ... all pic-nic-ed out after a modest spread of fancy sandwiches, pie, dinosaur chocolate, mini ice-cream lollies, haribo fizzy coke bottles and peachy-bellinis!!

*so remind me.. whose birthday is next?

Friday, May 25, 2012

It's all work and some play (eventually!)

Bringing to your attention.. perhaps too many times, some pieces I'm very glad to have taken up and finished to such a degree. These pieces saw me re-visiting them over and over again, revising some minor (perhaps almost invisible) mistakes, pleating and tearing open seams .. these pieces are proof of new levels of patience and endurance achieved in the last months. Strange, very strange, for a person this impatient with everything else.

 This is a Maid of Honour dress for the lovely Claire - easy to work with and for. She came forward with some drawings for her cousin's wedding and I sought to make something similar but with a twist. In practice, some ideas have to be done away with whilst others need to be introduced. Initially the dress was to be made in purple but now I'm glad the bride opted for champagne; the colour makes it all the more statuesque. Needless to say, that I really (honestly) enjoyed straining my eyes on the beading at the empire waistline. 

This is one of two tea-dresses my good friend, Sarah (of The Secret Rose) commissioned me to do. She purchased the floral material whilst on vacation in Dubai so we looked for a matching sturdy cotton to go with it for the top and the origami-inspired, modernized bow at the back. This neckline suits her so very much so we made sure to make the best of it by opening up the back all the way down to the waistline. *I love how her nail polish just happened to match the dress perfectly on the day she turned up for the last fitting! 

This, on the other hand is a collaboration with my other crafty friend Carla (of Rita Cholita). We decided to create a fuzzy wool cape, totally out of spirit with the impending summer, in hope it'll find a good life elsewhere where it's colder and more rudely so. The cape is lined with a flowery print I forgot to photograph (*sorry) and the cute round rosettes give it some extra 'vintage-y' appeal. I have a feeling we're going to have to reproduce it in a variety of colours for ourselves come winter!

And lastly.. a cute 50s inspired dress in the pipeline!

Before I forget.. Babettopolis' thoughts about 'vintage'  have been featured on just yesterday.
check it out here >> 'A Vintage Appeal' by Martina Said

YIPPIE **may I just say before I leave, that I'm really excited about visiting a good friend, the Leighton House, Walthamstow fabric market, Wilton's Music Hall and the Ballgowns exhibition at the V&A, all in the coming week** YIPPIE

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A special dress

I consider myself to be a late bloomer in this respect. I know of girls who have spent their childhood trying on their mothers' wedding dresses, but throughout my childhood this particular dress was mythically hidden away from me, high up on the rails in a double protective bag, plastic on blue fabric, unreachable. It was very wise of my mum to keep it away from over zealous hands and waxy crayons. In fact, it was even nicer to re-discover it now that I'm old enough to objectively look beyond the 80s in it and see just that bit more. All things considered, for a late 80s wedding, this dress was tame and sleek and really quite elegantly cut. My mum has never been one for over the top dresses, in fact she rarely wears any, however it brings me joy that for this special occasion she actually designed something perfect for herself and got it made at my dad's aunt - the super seamstress aunt Maryanne, who I hope to visit for a chat and tips in the coming weeks.

The myth was broken yesterday - off went the bags and on went the dress (and surprisingly it fit).

Please excuse my mum's impatience, she failed to button all the way down the back.

Here are details from the tapering and buttoned sleeve at the wrist, the gathers at the shoulders and the handmade head-dress of sorts which my mum commissioned from a lady in Qormi who used to specialise in bridal accessories - now that's an enviable post.

And some more details of the neckline and motifs which must have been attached at the shoulders and on a belt. We had to consult a wedding photo to make sure. For people who really love sewing, we really have a laid back approach to dresses after all. You'd think mum would remember what her dress was like and what went where. My mum just shrugged it off laughing - she only ever wanted a dress which looked good and that didn't bankrupt her. I'm glad we share some priorities after all.

One more thing.. Part one (of three) of the Design Chronicles interviews with Babettpolis is out and I cannot but feel happy about it. I'm fond of this initiative and the innovative way in which these people do business. Thanks.. and you may check it out for yourself here ::

Monday, May 21, 2012

Confessions of a modern seamstress

interview by Marika Azzopardi

Do you get glazed eyes from high street shopping that fruitlessly wastes your free afternoon, leaving you empty-handed? Finding the dream outfit can be hard for those whose figure is pretty straightforward, let alone for those whose physique is not your typical fashion-model thin.

That is when a girl starts thinking of alternatives - how about ferreting out a skilled dressmaker to create something truly ours, from head to toe? Meeting young Maria Muscat proves your good old-fashioned 'hajjata' does still exist, and this one comes with added flair. Here is what she says ...

When did you start sewing?
I’m 24 and I started taking sewing seriously (as opposed to just being in love with the idea) and attending pattern-making courses in my first year at Uni. I needed something more tangible to focus on outside of my course. I must have been 18 so that makes it 7 years give or take. 

What prompted you to start working as a seamstress or dressmaker?
I wanted to give it a go, it was a now or never kind of thing. Having spent a year teaching art in primary schools, I was pretty sure I’d do that for the rest of my life. I really enjoyed teaching. However, I kept cramming in sewing work which I always felt too tired to work on in the evenings. So I decided to just go for it last year, I gave up the security that comes with having a salary whilst I slowly started enjoying the perks of being my own boss which, by the way, requires a lot of discipline.

Why do people come to you?
They come to get something special done for themselves or else to purchase something particular for friends whose tastes they know inside out. I make made to measure clothing and I design shoes and bags and hats and accessories (the list goes on) so it’s safe to say that people often come for the whole experience. We sit down and talk about their needs and their ideas and then it’s up to me to come up with something that encapsulates all of that as well as push their boundaries, if only slightly. People need to feel safe but also expect to be surprised.
What is the characteristic of your work?
Much of my work is vintage inspired yet tailored to one’s needs. I try to bring up to date design elements from the past, make them more palatable for the uninitiated. My work is also detailed and favours the integration of other traditional craft elements like lace and embroidery. I’m all for luxury, in small statement-making doses.

Do you only do custom-made new clothing or do you also re-create old clothes? 
Yes, I often alter/up-do special pieces of clothing or accessories that carry sentimental value for their owner; I aim to create something even more special out of a well-loved object without destroying it’s essence. I can mend and decorate bags, I can turn a much used dress whose patterned material one has grown to love into a beg whose owner will take as much wear out of, I can up-do plain shoes that need that little bit of extra something; to a certain extent I give a second lease on life to objects that deserve it. 

Who are your typical clients?
I get a mixed clientele; from relatively young teens who have grown up in the ‘vintage-inspired’ fashion world of recent years to older ladies who are often bewildered at our nostalgia for the fashions from their teens. I also design and make wedding dresses and accessories for brides on the look out for something slightly more special than the off-the-rail or over-the-internet choices. But mainly women who miss the sentimental aspect that a tailored one-off dress brings with it. 

Which designer inspires you?
I, like many I am sure, have my own long list of favourite designers but my top 3 would have to be (at gun point): Paul Poiret, Madame Gres and Sorelle Fontana/Chanel/Callot Soeurs/ Madeleine Vionnet/ Fortuny …

Which era inspires you?
I am infatuated with the fashions from the beginning of the 20th century up to the 50s and (why not) even slightly beyond that. The first corset-less silhouettes remain amongst my favourites.

What skills do you have apart from sewing skills? 
I do embroidery and beading. I paint on some items when I feel it’s necessary and I also work with clay and copper to create my costume jewellery designs. I work with felt to make hats and fascinators and a while back I decided to take some informal training in shoe making as well. I often (if not always) feel the need to know what goes into making something before daring to design it.

How long does it take you to create a project?
Projects vary. Even similar dresses take different amounts of time. Making a dress requires time for consultation, choosing materials, drafting a pattern, cutting the material and then several fittings to ensure a flattering fit. A clay project on the other hand requires its own drying and firing time. Anything handmade and well-made requires its own time. 

Do you have a favourite time of day to work in and why?
I need the morning light for pattern making and cutting and stitching and the in-between time for answering e-mails and queries and fittings since clients often come for their fitting after work. The evening, I reserve for sketching and beading and embroidering. I like to close the day with something more creative that I can carry with me to the sofa. So I wouldn’t say I have a favourite time of day, just ideal times of day for different tasks.

What is your most useful piece of equipment & why?
I know it’s not at all romantic to say so, and that I should probably say it’s my sewing machine, but I think my laptop is the most useful piece of equipment. Perhaps I’m only saying this because I’d really like to get a new sewing machine and have been eying a sturdier specimen for a while now!

Your aspirations?
Is it ok to just hope, at this point, that I’ll be able to continue doing what I’m doing for years to come? I was never the type to aspire too highly and rather focus on achieving a little something definite every day. Of course, I’d love to have my own atelier. I already know what it’ll look like and I can assure you it’ll be a lovely place to work in and visit. However, it would be a pity to let my day dreaming interrupt my work at this crucial stage in my craft. I like to keep focused and realistic.

Is there a future for bespoke dressmaking?
I hope so. As I said, I plan to keep at this for quite a while. I sincerely believe that I’m part of a general revival. The proliferation of home based industries and the revival of an art/craft fair culture is a sure indication that the love for handmade work is back to stay. Or so I choose to believe.

Your most important project to date?
A 50s inspired cocktail length wedding dress, simply cut but heavily embroidered with the bride’s own favourite love quotes! It was also important as a project since it allowed me to collaborate with a friend for the first time. Many contender projects are in the pipeline so if you were to ask me the same question in a couple of weeks’ time I might have a different answer for you. 

What do you do to promote your work?
I use facebook a lot. I have my own page under the name of ‘Babettopolis’ where I upload photos of finished work as well as work in progress. I also have an accompanying blog ‘’ in which I post more generally about influences and the behind the scenes of projects I’m involved in like PATCHES the handmade market. That’s it really. That, and talking about what I do a lot, like I just did here.

The Malta Independent on Sunday [20th May 2012]

Thanks Marika!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

La Serenissima

Some say 'serene', I choose 'mad'. Venice is indeed mad, on the verge of toppling over into the waters that are intrinsic to its madness. It is not serene as much as it is in a constant state of stasis. Despite the infamous influx of visitors, both reverent and obnoxious, Venice remains uniquely grotesque in its loneliness. The only city to boast such architectural follies, built in the most lavish styles but on most dubious grounds. I find it difficult to consider Venice as Italian.. Venice cannot be anything but Venetian.. replete with harlequin spirit, and a lost sense of industry and initiative; filled to satiation with decadence best exemplified by gold cornices atop marbled pedestals. Even the pasta is mad: all stripey and colourful. The pace so slow it allows, or rather, traps you into believing you belong. I'll go back. I'll go through the difficult parting over again. Twice is not enough. I need more escapades. I'm prepared to suspend my disbelief and let as elite a city as Venice to dupe me into feeling welcome. I am suspicious of this city.. I think it's exuberant fa├žade is a foil for corruption my inexperienced lens will never be able to capture. Venice you're crazy but I love you; mind you, it's a case of 'because of' rather than 'even though'!

Dusky colours that would make many a bathroom and bedroom happy. A generous helping of mould has the inherent potential to make everything look just like I've always dreamt it should.

prosecco + campari/aperol/etc + soda water + the all important olive = hours of blissful rocking of a seemingly all too familiar cradle.

When the scene from outside your window is as, if not more, engrossing than the exhibited work inside, you simply know you're in a good place. (Elliot Erwitt, DOG - New York City 1946)

Where I fell in love with Josef Hoffman as much as I've always been with Klimt.

speechless.. all stillness and light.

more stillness and some foreboding. Mr Digby's Giudecca is more shrouded than serene. Also the swirling seaweed would have been a nice accompanying treat (on the head) with the crushing black eye I was about to gift the rude ticket lady at the pier.

I rarely feel this small in Italy, Venice no less. For all I know this tower may be made out of paper, out to trick me into believing this place is real. The city holds within it the charm of a freshly pressed, still-humid sheaf. I will not stretch the metaphor, I just wish to explain myself better. Venice smells like paper.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

All in (half) a day's work

Yes. This is what my days are like. Sometimes. At best. Waking up to a selection of Lebanese 'leftover' delights. A breakfast treat fit for Olympian gods.

Picking up a pair of grey leather ankle boots I saw from conception from the trustworthy shoemaker who makes dreams come true. (*erm. those are not my legs. just for the record)

Doing the Valletta-thing-in-the-sun. Feeling all touristy and mushy on the inside whilst dodging teenagers and their clip-file worth of offers and deals.

Looking for patterns and making unforeseen/uncalled for links as I run errands.

Paying the habitual visit to the familiar haberdashery and crossing out my 'to buy list' only to replace it later on in the week with an even longer one!

Stopping for a breather at Prego.. because there really is no better 11 o'clock snack. I could make this sandwich at home but I don't. If I did I'd probably end up going for less of everything (especially mayo).. but when somebody else prepares it for you it doesn't really count. Same theory applies for whole milk and sugar in tea when I'm at someone else's. It simply doesn't count.

Prego - because even the loos look pretty!

And back home by noon to work on some 'good lookin' separates!

*Tactfully avoiding any mention of waiting for the bus in the sun and being thrown aside by a stampede of eager and impatient fellow bus-stop companions. *Wishing every day starts out as blissfully.

A round-up of recent work..

A hiatus (where the work process on several .. and when I say several, I mean MANY .. projects starts) is followed by a deeply satisfying period of time where all of the projects are being finalised. A brief period of time in which outsiders who follow your work probably get the impression you're on a course of potent multivitamins or plain old trustworthy 'speed' (depends on personal taste). What really happens is that you go through a number of weeks where all the hard work of cutting and meeting and fitting and occasional swearing is being done and you have absolutely nothing to show for it in terms of pretty pictures (carefully cropped to avoid the cat-fur-tumble-weed, piles of bags, stray clumps of thread etc). Once that is done you are rewarded with a period of: being able to sit in the yard all day, soak up the sun, finish off the last few tasks like removing all loose threads, beading decorative pieces, hemming skirts etc . and to top that off, take photos of what you do and make it seem as easy as pie! This is one such project. A dress for my beauty pageant contender cousin.. the skirt of which saw me well into the early hours and through a bottle of wine (or perhaps a bit less than that.. I'm really a weakling when it comes to that). I took loads of photos of the work in progress in an attempt to alleviate the stress of having to cram in as much white tulle as possible whilst surreptitiously introducing colours.

On the plus side.. here's my all-grown-up-how/when-did-this-happen(?) cousin (yes we're related.. she's much taller and so much more toned.. end of story!) doing it justice on the catwalk.. It's good to see dresses where they belong. What's also very good is being given the opportunity to brush up on my tulle gathering skills.. it's nice to know that I can do it if the opportunity arises again!

This, on the other hand, is a more sober dress for a fitting occasion (no, not the other way round). I was 'wise' enough to scan the design for it (I usually lose/forget them) which the intended wearer selected from amongst four! .. I love how this turned out. Just what I had imagined. What was truly satisfying, though, was how well it fit .. I truly believe that this dress was meant to happen/become just for her!

.. And this is for her mother! I think looser fits are just as dressy and I'm out to convince people about this with this here outfit. The jacket's draping is longer in front than at the back and I just love the silhouette!

A while back I made a cat-inspired mask. A while later I created a matching metallic dress. It was all well and good. Then again, why not a red cape to match? I say go for it! .. especially if you have a music video to shoot!

This (and more) is what I do. This sunny day is proving lovely and productive. This sunny day made me realize it's high time I started thinking about my next personal 'object' oriented project. Meanwile, cold lemonade will do.