Saturday 28 August 2010

You're Busted!

Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?  Does art inform fashion, or does fashion shape itself within the confines of life, practicality and the need to look flattering on the wearer?  A nice pretentious couple of questions with which to kick off this entry - guaranteed to make you sound incredibly intelligent or your money back*.  Confused?  Don't be.

*No, I'm afraid you can't have that in writing.

The battle between fashion as art, and fashion in the accessible, commercial sense, has been an ongoing saga.  The outrĂ© wonders you see gracing the catwalks obviously aren't designed to suit the slimmest of wallets, or the fattest of bottoms - that's up to the hoi polloi of the high street, thank you very much.  Sure, there is always plenty of demand for the latter, but it's just never gelled with fashion's illuminati.  Whether it was Anna Wintour insisting that Oprah Winfrey lost weight before she was to be photographed for the cover of Vogue, or fashion insiders criticising Gok Wan's work as merely cheap psychotherapy for fatties, fashion has always been a battleground when it comes to standards of beauty.  And while high fashion might not be designed to cater for every size of backside, what about those awkward times when it disappears up its own rear end altogether?  I remember doing a soundbite at a magazine about what the - mostly heterosexual - male employees thought of the latest trends, in terms of the sex appeal they gave off.  It was around 2006-2007 when billowing tunics and tulip skirts were in full bloom, causing even the  most svelte of wearers to look like Violet Beauregarde, when she turned into a giant blueberry, in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. "What's she trying to hide under (her clothes)?" they all asked, "is that supposed to be a maternity dress?"

It's said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not everyone has the same taste, or concept of what would flatter their form. (See Snog Marry Avoid) Anyone who has seen a blue-legged waif in a mini-skirt wandering the streets in late November, or an orange-tinted urchin in a half-shirt exposing a not-overly-toned stomach, would know what I mean.  However, it's the sculptural hourglass female form that artists and designers alike have revisited, timelessly, over the years, when the penny drops that we women want to feel - and look - sexy.  In these lean times we know how important it is to make the most of our assets, and such is the silhouette for next season that, according to Vogue:  "The motto? If you haven't got it, fake it - not (thankfully), in the silicone sense, but with extra fabric bullet pleated for greater bust potential, or bottoms given the same treatment by full skirts caught into soft bustles across the back."  Ladies and - perhaps even - gentlemen, I give you Prada's bosom-bastic new collection.  Enjoy:

Total Cost

About £33 with the materials I used

Save It!

Unfortunately, I have yet to see the exact price of the original, so, I'm afraid, I can't give you an exact comparison. That's why I chose the next best thing to compare it to - something which also draws attention to and very much enhances the breast area: getting implants. I have it on anecdotal authority that this procedure costs about £5000, a hundred and fifty times the price of this Chic Cheat dress.  That's a saving of £4967.  You know it makes sense.



Fortunately, this one's not too demanding or time-consuming.  It just requires a bit of technique, care and fabric-coaxing.

You Will Need...

  • A black or grey tunic. I found a tunic at Peacock's, available in black and in grey herringbone

  • 1/2 metre of black or grey fabric to match your dress, which should cost a maximum of £5

  • Black or grey lace trim, which costs about £1.30/metre, available at all good haberdashers.

  • Black or grey bias binding, available at Hobbycraft for £1.79 per roll.

  • Needle and thread

  • Fabric scissors

  • Pins

  • Sewing machine

  • Tailor's chalk

  • Set Square

  • Compass and pencil

Let's Frock!

First, you have to try your dress on and mark out, with your chalk, where the bottom of your bust is.

Use your compass to draw a curve between the side of your bust dart and the line at the bottom of your bust.

Cut 5 strips of fabric at a 45 degree angle to the side, which you can measure out using your set square.  Make sure that they are about the same size and at least 40cm long.

Hand-stitch loosely about 1cm from the bottom, pull  your thread so that it has a drawstring effect and the fabric ruches.  Knot it in place at the end.  Repeat this process with the rest of your strips of fabric.

Sew your lace trimming to the top of your strips of fabric.

Sew some bias binding along the line you marked out at the bottom of the bust, top-stitching it 1mm from the edge on both sides.  Now add your ruched strips of fabric, starting along the top of your dress and working your way downwards.  Pin them in place with bias binding along the bottom, covering up the raw edges, and top stitch the bias binding 1mm from each of the two sides, as before...

...And you should have something which looks like this:

Sunday 22 August 2010

Hot Gossip - Part 3: Ooooh, handbags!



Easy as falling of a log, only less painful - unlike listening to Blair's gob!

Total Cost

The bad news is even my Chic Cheat solution is relatively pricey, totalling £25...

Save It!

...However, the good news is that it's still a lot less than the $1598 price tag of the original.  That's about £1028, according to the beautiful shiny currency converter on my computer desktop (yes, I really am that sad) which means this entry could save you £1003.


16 or thereabout

You will need

  • A clutch bag or small handbag - I'd recommend picking one up at your local charity shop.  The colour doesn't matter as you will be completely covering it, but if you can find one with gold purse clasps at the top, then bonus.

  • 20cm of green and turquoise jacquard silk My quest to find a decent match took me all the way to London, where I found a fabulous fabric that fitted the bill and set me back £11.  Jacquard silk £55/metre, Soho Silks, 22 D'Arblay Street, London W1F 8EP Tel: 020 7434 3305

  • A tube of green, gold and brown beads, a string of pale green pearls (code BP25-4) and a string of green glass beads (code GPR12) costing a total of £4.50 including VAT from Creative Beadcraft (trading as Ells and Farrier in London, 1 Marshall Street, London, W1F 9BA  Tel: 020 7734 1982)  I also picked up £4 worth of assorted beads and green pearls from Beading Crafty (Beading Crafty Ltd, 25 The Square, Kenilworth CV8 1EF  Tel: 01926 858442)

  • Glue gun

  • Needle and thread

  • Fabric scissors

  • Ruler or graded set square

  • Metallic gel pen

We've got it in the bag

...And, so can you, if you:

Start by cutting two pieces out of your fabric big enough to cover the sides of your handbag.

Pin one of your pieces of fabric to the side of your handbag, folding the excess fabric underneath, along the bag's seam line and at the top.  Slip-stitch it to the bag.

Repeat this process with the other side of the handbag and at the bottom of needs be.

Mark out a line 2-3cm from the top of the handbag, on both sides.  Glue your beads inside that area between the line and the top of the bag, ensuring you cover the whole area.

Friday 20 August 2010

Hot Gossip - Part 2 : Serena's Order

Just what every teen queen wants - Acne!

Image: The CW

...Or, rather, the  Force Dress by Acne (you might see what I did there) worn by the lovely Ms Lively as Serena van der Woodsen in Gossip Girl, in an episode called The Empire Strikes Jack.




...And, I hope you like hours of hand-stitching, because that's what it takes to get through this one.  However, on the positive side, this dress is not only dead easy to make, but cheap as chips - only unlike chips it's actually quite slimming!


I'd say a maximum of 8 hours.

You Will Need

  • Black long-sleeved dress.  A three-quarter sleeve dress will do.  I found one costing £11 at Primark.

  • Half a metre of dark grey lycra or jersey prices will vary but mine set me back about £3, from the Fancy Silk Store in Birmingham (27 Moat Lane, Birmingham, West Midlands B5 5BD tel. 0121 643 7356)

  • 1 Metre of black bias binding about an inch in width.  Mine cost 50p, although prices may vary.  Available at all good haberdashers.

  • Pins

  • Fabric scissors

  • Black thread

  • Tailor's chalk

  • Sewing machine

Total Cost

Within the region of £15 depending on the cost of your fabric and bias binding...

Save It!

...Which works out at - literally - a tenth of the price of the original, which currently retails at £160 on the sale!  Last season it sold for £400.

Let's Frock!

First of all, let's kick it off with a bit of sartorial vandalism.  You need to cut out the shoulders.  Fold the dress in half, down the middle, to make sure that your changes are symmetrical, pin it in place, if necessary, and cut away oval shapes at the shoulders.

Fold your bias binding over the raw edges.  Pin it in place and then machine sew it.

Fold your dress in half again , and use your pins to draft out a wiggly shape down the sides (which should be one on top of the other) like the grey one on the original.  Notice how it curves inwards at the waist and outwards around the bust and hips.  Try to mimic that. Then, draw down the lines of pins on both sides using your tailor's chalk, making sure your line is as clear as possible.

When you have finished, take your pins out and unfold your dress.  Either the back or the front of your dress should have two lines of tailor's chalk down both sides.  Put pins through these lines, as before, to mark out your lines through the two layers, turn your dress over and use your chalk to draw out the lines, as before.

Now to add your grey jersey.  Cut two long strips which are easily wide enough to cover the areas at the side that you used your chalk to mark out.  Pin them in place, along the line, folding under any excess fabric.

Now for a spot of elbow grease in the form of slip-stitching.  Stretch fabrics require a certain type of this invisible stitch which is like so:

Bring your needle out of your  grey fabric and into the edge of the black fabric, going backwards trough a few strands of the material.

Now bring your needle forwards again to start your next stitch, and put it backwards through a few strands of the grey fabric.  Repeat this process stitching alternately through the black and grey fabric until all the sides are stitched down.

This just in... we've seen proof that if you follow these instructions you should have a new dress which looks like this...

...You know you want to, xoxo

Saturday 7 August 2010

R U Miu Miu?

There are so many of us creative types who find ourselves lingering under the category of "visual creator." That is, less pretentiously put, a person paid to draw attention to a product and increase its sales by making it pretty. From artists and graphic designers through to composers, all parties concerned are united in their ultimate goal of making their products seductive. One such discipline you've probably heard of is "visual merchandising" or strategically and beautifully placing retail products on display in a shop window to turn heads - an turn in those all-important profits. This is practised everywhere from Topshop to the corner shop.

"Never judge a book by its cover" your mum probably told you, but anyone looking to apply that sort of logic to the clothing business is clearly looking at the wrong book, and needs to pick up another one entitled "You Don't Get A Second Chance at a First Impression" How many times have you walked into a shop you didn't plan on entering because you were lured, and consequently reeled in by the evil clutches of, the window display? Research has shown that most of us tend to turn right as we enter a shop. My own bitter experience suggests that you enter transfixed beneath the glare of the bright lights, towards a triptych of mannequins styled to the hilt in an outfit you wouldn't normally have as a gift, even if you were paid a six figure sum or assigned to wear it for a charity as an alternative to being baptised clumsily in a vat of fermenting baked beans...and yet you're intrigued enough to step inside and try the garments on. Wending your way to the changing rooms, you're bombarded with a delectable confection of styling options and accessories to try, each one proving ever more tempting than the last. Even in times of medal-worthy resilience, when you do manage to resist and succeed in your mission to the register undeterred, don't think you can breathe your much deserved sigh of relief yet, for there awaits yet another array of shiny belts, make-up and novelty lip balms. Cute - purchase! Alas! There are also huge flagship stores who take the shopping-as-entertainment aspect to the extreme with nail bars and even in-store hair salons, pulling out every possible stop to stimulate every sense in your body and squeeze every penny from your purse. It's not like this by accident, but thanks to the feverish strategic, formulaic and - possibly - creative efforts of a team of merchandisers trying to promote the company and its image as much as the goods.

Images: Marcio Madeira/, Rankin for Elle UK,

...And now for something a bit different- the one thing that can shift record clothing sales in the blink of a liquid-lined eye, more so than any nail bars or visual merchandising can hope to - celebrities! Have we got a Chic Cheat treat for you, dear readers. Not only am I referencing THE collection of next season, but giving you a double DIY whammy of two A-listers' oufits. In the black corner, we have Cheryl Cole. In the lilac corner, we have Lily Allen. I bet you didn't think we could get both of them on the same bill with the notorious feuding history they have - well, so I've heard. I'm not the greatest follower of celebrity gossip, especially regarding catfights. I've a relative who says that there are 3 sides to every story - or argument - your side, my side and the truth. I find that for every celebrity brawl there are 3 possible sides the dearly adoring public can take - Team *insert first person's name*, Team *insert second person's name* and Team Couldn't give a Flying Fuck! No prizes for guessing which side I tend to find myself on. Still, a trend is still a trend, a fashion statement is a fashion statement, and it is my civil cyber duty to share the craft of that trend with you all. So, once again, here's how to get the look...

Cole Runnings

Images: Marcio Madeira/,

You will need

  • A strappy black dress, which Asda do for £14 (product code 3281105)

  • Half a metre of black jersey.

  • 1m of black PVC, available at most good haberdashers, prices may vary.

  • Black bias binding, available at all good haberdashers, prices may vary.

  • Silver wire - £1.85 from most jewellery shops and haberdashers.

  • Pliers.

  • Needle and black thread

  • Scissors

  • Scalpel

  • Sewing machine


This one should take about 2 days.



Nothing too taxing here.

Let's Frock!

Cut 14 flower shapes out of your PVC, in varying sizes 2 to 5cm in width.  Glue them, matt side to matt side, onto the rest of your PVC and cut the shapes out again, so that you have 14 PVC flower shapes that are shiny on both sides.

Cut out 28 flower shapes, identical in size to the PVC flowers, in black jersey.  These must be the same size as the PVC flowers, so cut 14 matching pairs of flowers in different sizes varying from 2cm to 5cm in width.

Machine-stitch each of the matching pairs together, 5mm from the edge.

With each of your new fabric flowers, cut away as much of the excess fabric around the edges as possible, without cutting into the seam.  Cut a small "X" in the middle of the flower, on the top layer of the fabric.  Turn the flower inside-out, so that no raw edges are visible.

Attach your fabric flowers to your PVC flowers of the same size.  The side with the "X" shape cut out must be face down, so that it is not visible from the outside.

Now to make the metal filaments for each flower.  You can do this with your silver wire and pliers.  Twist your wire into spokes, bending the wire outwards and back again, and twisting your wire spokes into spiral-like shapes, as shown in the illustration, below:

Stitch your filament patterns into the centre of your flowers.

Cut two oar-like shapes out of your black jersey which are about 5cm longer than your dress straps.  Fold black bias binding around the edges and machine-stitch it in place.

Attach these pieces to your dress directly on top of your straps.

Finally, stitch your flowers onto your new straps.

My variation

...Same principle, slightly different dress.

The Allen Key to Success

Images: Marcio Madeira/, Rankin for Elle UK

You will need

  • A white lace dress - I found one in Primark for £13 (prod. no. 8083671)

  • A metre of white lace with a clear floral pattern, ideally with flowers of different sizes.  You might need to buy two different fabrics - half a metre of each.  Mine came to £11.50 from Barry's Fabrics in Birmingham (1 Moseley Street, Birmingham B5 6JX tel. 0121 622 6102)

  • White and violet thread

  • Needle

  • Pins

  • Scissors

  • Scalpel

  • Dylon Intense Violet hand fabric dye - £3.25 from Hobbycraft

  • Half a metre of violet jersey.

  • 1m of violet PVC (or, better still, metallic silver PVC if you can find some), available at most good haberdashers, prices may vary.

  • Violet bias binding, available at all good haberdashers, prices may vary.

  • Silver wire - £1.85 from most jewellery shops and haberdashers.

  • Pliers

  • Sewing machine


This one should take 4-5 days.



Nothing too taxing here.  It gets a bit fiddly at times, but I'd say this one was more a test of patience than skill, you'll be pleased to know.

Let's Frock!

We go a little in at the deep end in the mind-numbing stakes, unfortunately, for this laborious yet essential stage.  All you have to do is cut 100-200 flowers out of your lace, or as many as you can find, without your eyes crossing!

You can also use the borders of your lace fabric.  Simply cut out 4 pieces and make a flower shape out of them as shown in the picture below:

Congratulations on surviving that lengthy process, now all you have to do is sew them on, one by one, in neat rows like those in the following picture.

Good news:  Not only do you officially deserve a medal for your tireless embellishing, but you should have your own version of the following Miu Miu dress:

Images: Marcio Madeira/

...Which looks something like this:

Violet Delight

If you want to get Lily's look, you've got to change the colour of the dress to violet, so this is where your violet dye comes in.  Ensure that you follow the instructions on your dye carefully.

Repeat the previous procedure to make the straps and filament-centred flowers.

And, if I'm not much mistaken, you should have something that looks like this:

Thursday 15 July 2010

Kylie Stylee

We've got the style of a pop icon down to a tee!

African summer - a heat wave from the outset.  Indian summer - a belated heat wave setting in close to the autumn when you thought all hope was gone for the present year.  British summer - disappointing, rainy and chronically overrated  misnomer scheduled between May and September, for which we wistfully brave the punishing elements in shorts and t-shirts, as if it genuinely were 3o degrees in the shade... or is it?  Not if this year's anything to go by.  Perhaps, then, there is a God, who acknowledged that we are still plodding our way out of recession and have had all manner of travel impediments, most of them involving volcanic ash clouds, so he/she gave us a jolly nice summer, right here, on our blessed homeland.  It's been uncanny.  It's worked out much cheaper than a holiday, not to mention less hassle, and the first time, since pa fell off the bus, that I can grace fair England's streets in a summer frock without feeling like a human experiment for outdoor cryogenics.  Oh, what it is to step out in style, and to step out of the tawdry British tradition of lamenting the weather, instead savouring the cocktail of sizzling heat and sultry idyll with which we have been provided.  So much  so that I thought this called for a sultry and sizzling pop reference.  Who perfectly encapsulates the two?  It could only be, Kylie Minogue.  All The Lovers... of stylish t-shirts must surely have noticed her Jean Paul Gaultier number from her recent single, and, here at Chic Cheat HQ, we couldn't possibly overlook it.

Total Cost

About £3-£3.50... probably about a hundredth of the original price!


About 3 hours.

You will need

  • A white t-shirt, available for as little as £2 courtesy of Primark

  • 20cm White stretch fabric anything from jersey to lycra, as long as it stretches.  Synthetic fabrics tend to be cheaper, and there's no need to push the boat out on this one.

  • 1.5m white bias binding - I say 1.5 to b on the safe side, but in most instances, I'd say you'd be fine with 1m.

  • Pins

  • Scissors

  • Sewing machine... I say this is a £3  project, because that's the sort of price the raw materials come to.  However, you are going to need one of these, and if you do need to buy one, this exercise may prove to be something of a false economy!


Cut away the middle of the T-shirt so that there is only an area of fabric about 10cm wide on each side.

Cut tour stretch white fabric into strips about 20cm long.  You will probably notice that if you cut your strips one way, across the width of the fabric they will fray and disintegrate, whereas if you cut them across the length of the fabric, they can stretch without fraying.

Cut trial strips in both directions and, when you find a way that works best, cut 15-20 strips.

Pin your strips at the edge of the fabric so that they go across the middle of your t-shirt, forming X shapes around the bust and towards the bottom.

When you're happy with the way you've pinned your fabric strips, fold your bias binding in half and pin it over the raw edges.  Machine stitch it in place and you should have a t-shirt that looks something like this...

...And that you hold now, in your mortal hands, the clothing of a modern-day Aphrodite.Wear it with some black hotpants and a bandeau bra to look like the real McCoy and you've got it - wow wow wow WOW!!!