Tuesday 26 January 2010

Stella Good

A sprightly springtime look to blow away the winter cobwebs?  How about……..YES

As we leave the ice-laden days of extreme winter freeze behind us for pastures green(-ish) and the dawn of the springtime warmth, you only have to walk into a shop to find that spring has definitely sprung on planet fashion. From the high street to the catwalk, attention has already turned to what’s hot for the approaching warmer months, and there’s not so many a cold sore on one’s lips as there is the topic of what to wear when it’s finally time to banish those jeans, boots and coats to the back of your wardrobe, once again, until the autumn.

Well, for inspiration, here’s a start: The floral printed dresses from Stella McCartney’s latest spring/summer collection, in upbeat hues of red, orange and blue, with pleats and cascading frills, straddled the catwalk at her show to the backdrop of a giant canvas with YES splayed across, in an equally bold colour scheme. This chirpy, optimistic theme resonated throughout the collection, particularly in the dresses, and will surely be a key look for the season ahead.



Much as it pains me to say so, this one’s likely to test you to the limit, as, indeed it did to me, owing to the processes involved, including DIY pleating (with thermoplastic fabrics. “Thermo-who, now?” I hear you ask - more on that enthralling saga later), frill-making and more fun with bias-binding. Confused? Fear not, all will be revealed, my friends…

Total Cost

Mine worked out at just over £15 (because the fabric I bought was on offer - yours might work out more expensive but not by much)


Mine took me about 4 days - but that included making mistakes, learning and re-doing. Luckily for you, yours should take less time, as long as you follow instructions closely, and shouldn’t be nearly as stressful.

You will need

About 2 metres of red polyester, maybe more depending on the width of your fabric. Barry’s Fabrics in Birmingham -1 Moseley Street, Birmingham, B5 6JX, tel    0121 622 6102   (They also have a branch in Manchester called Leon’s Fabric Superstore -419 Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton, Manchester, M19 1PL, tel   0161 861 7960  ) do an appropriate fabric with a floral print in brown, crimson and pink, like the one used for Stella’s dress.

A matching (or close enough) one-shoulder top or dress that’s reasonably well fitted around the bust. Unfortunately, these are currently harder to find than a straightedge at The Priory, but after much perseverance, I managed to track one down in Primark for £5 on the sale(product number 8159176) A word of warning - it’s actually pink, so I’d recommend you keep in the direction of crimson hues for your covering fabric.

2 reels of matching red thread and a roll of satin bias binding Available at Hobbycraft for £1.40 a reel and £1.79 respectively.

Metre ruler


Fabric scissors

Large sheet of paper

Drawing pin

Long strip of sturdy card

Scalpel (optional) and pencil

Needle and thread

Iron and ironing board

Piece of calico you don’t mind burning (honest to God, I’m a sane person!)

Sewing machine

Shall we begin…

Truth be known, this was the entry that wouldn’t die, and defeated me on a lot of counts, which had never happened in Chic Cheat history before. Traditionally, I’d always known what I was doing, would look at the garment in question and know instantly how to problem solve my way to a respectable replica without a hitch. This time around, I thought I did, but, instead, found myself redoing certain processes before getting them right, and living to regret my choice of fabric and base garment for customising the first time around. Fate hasn’t been kind to me over the past week. It was spent wrangling with the respective processes of this dress, whilst battling the common cold and tearing my hair out, debating whether to add a magnum shotgun to my list of ingredients so that I might be spared by blowing my brains out! At least going down with the proverbial lurgy gave me an excuse to spend more or less the entire week in my pyjamas and rarely leaving the confines of my bedroom - which still looks a cross between a bombsite and an eccentric’s laboratory where the sane fear to tread. There, I plugged away undisturbed at my new experiment, yet still managed to make even heavier weather of it than the freezing outdoor conditions most of us have seen this month! The hours I put in reverted me to a primal form I hadn’t assumed since my stroppier days of teenagehood, giving me the motivational skills of a lounge lizard and a ghastly temper. Still, talking of going back to school, I actually found myself referring to an old textiles project I did when I was about 17 to find out how best to pleat fabric. ‘Twas in a dusty, forgotten corner, in the bowels of our house, that I discovered the ancient tome, reading “The Advantages of Thermoplastic Fabrics” (okay, I tell a lie - it was saved on my Dad’s old Mac, but work with me here!) And so here, by this process, begins our first method…

Just pleat it! 

I shall now reveal exactly what I meant when I was banging on about this whole thermoplastic malarkey. Quoth I, from said project I did back at school: “Thermoplastic fabrics are a type of man-made fabric whose configuration can be changed when heated, if shaped, for example, to fit a mould, and retain this new configuration on cooling, until re-heated. The reason for this is that the fabric has become heat-set. This is what the name ‘thermoplastic’ means.” Basically, they are fabrics you can mould into shapes, textures and pleats by heating them, manipulating them into whichever shape you want, and cooling them down to set them in place.

The reason why all thermoplastic fabrics are synthetic, or part-synthetic, is because of their make up. Thermoplastic fabrics are made up of molecules which are held together in long chains. When they are heated, the chains lose their weak grip, making the material go soft, and rendering it pliable and easy to shape. When cooled down, the long chains attract each other again and the weak bonds reform, thus the material becomes rigid again. The fabric can only be moulded when it is soft, therefore, it needs to be heated to quite a high temperature for the heat-setting process to take place. As thermoplastic fabrics lose their shape on heating, they should be washed at very low temperatures. Bet you didn’t know that, did you? Okay, settle down, class, here’s how I’m going to apply it to the Stella McCartney dress…

Cut two rectangles from your fabric, both 80×70cm. Concertina-fold them into pleats about an inch deep, pin them in place. Tack-stitch them in place and take the pins out, otherwise you’ll get pin marks heat-set into your pleats - sooo not a good look, honey!

With your fabric stitched together into pleats, cover it with your sheet of calico and iron it on maximum heat for a few minutes.

When your pleats have been heat-set, you then have to attach your fabric to your garment.

Note: if you are using the Primark top I suggested, you will also need to cut the pink frills off. Try to cut as close to the garment - without damaging it - as possible.

You can attach it at the top, just under the armhole.

Place your fabric across your garment, upside down, with the wrong side facing upwards, 1cm below where the armholes come to.You’re likely to notice that the top of your rectangles of fabric are somewhat wider than the close fitting top of your garment where you need to attach them. I solved this problem by folding certain of the pleats back on themselves, so that the edge of your fabric diminishes in width and is able to fit exactly onto the front of your garment.

Repeat this process with the back of your garment.

Attach your fabric at the sides using your bias binding.

Finally, finish off your hem by folding the bottom of your fabric up by 1cm, machine-stitching over it as close to the edge as possible and cutting away the excess fabric. Then fold your fabric over again by a tiny amount and stitch next to the edge again, as before.

And now, for the big frill…

Draw a circle on paper 64cm in diameter, and a circle inside it 31cm in diameter. You can do this by making a giant compass, using card, a ruler, a pencil and a scalpel or scissors. Simply draw around your ruler and cut out your new rectangle of card.

Pierce your card near the edge with your drawing pin, and, keeping your pin in, mark 15.5 and 32cm from it. Pierce in the centre of the card at each of these measurements and make a hole large enough for the tip of a pencil to draw through. Your new compass should look something like this…

Draw your 2 circles and cut them out, so that you have a pattern piece that looks like a large paper Polo mint.

Draft and cut out a similar circular pattern piece of a circle 2cm wider in diameter, so that it is 66cm in diameter on the outside and 31cm in diameter on the inside.

Pin onto your fabric and cut out each circle piece twice. Cut out a line from the outside of the circle to the inside, so that instead of circles you now have four long, curved pieces of fabric.

Sew each of the two circles to one another.

Again, finish off the lower edge by folding the bottom of your fabric up by 1cm, machine-stitching over it as close to the edge as possible and cutting away the excess fabric. Then fold your fabric over again by a tiny amount and stitch next to the edge again, as before.

Pin your frills together with the wider one underneath the narrower one, and sew your bias binding along the top.

Pin your frills, now attached to the bias binding along the top, folding the binding back and forth on itself continually around the garment so that the fabric attached to it forms billowing ripples like the ones on the original dress. Machine stitch it down, making sure the line of bias binding is straight.

…And after that rigorous procedure, you may feel like you’ve really been put through your paces, but the good news is you should be left with something that looks like this…

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