Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern

OK book coverWith an open heart and mind I set off for one of my favourite London destinations last week, the Fashion and Textile Museum, to see the exhibition which gives this post its name. FTM has staged another top quality exhibition drawing on company archives as well as works by numerous collaborators of this successful and influential designer. I said that I went with an open heart and mind, because I’m not sure that I like her work. I’m not normally one to ciriticise and I can usually find something to enjoy and what’s not to enjoy? I love textiles, colours and patterns, surely I’m half way there to enjoying this exhibition? Perhaps it is because I grew up in the 1970s surrounded by these bold repeat patterns in oranges, greens, mustards and pinks; from flower stickers on the toilet seat to patterns on saucepans and flowing party dresses – the latter with the addition of ric rac – but I just couldn’t feel the ‘joy and happiness’ (Kiely, p.13) of the brand.

The fashions at the exhibition were described as, “Appealing to confident, stylish and intelligent women” and in the Autumn/Winter 2015 collection lifestyle film these women were in a library! What a cliche.

However, if you are a fan of Orla Kiely, you will love this exhibition.  It runs until 23rd September, so there is still time to go. But, if you’re not going to make it, you may be interested in the accomapnying book: A Life in Pattern: and how it can make you happy without even noticingHeavily illustrated with Kiely’s signature patterns, it is representative of her work. Take a look and decide for yourself.


Jersey Skirt

Pleated jersey skirt

Another Simply Sewing make. This time a Jersey skirt, again using a remnant. It has a tie belt which is separate to the skirt. You could wear it with jeans too, apparently its fashionable this year. I haven’t worked with pleats since my City and Guilds, so it was good to try out box and knife pleats in a real context. Despite measuring carefully, the waist turned out rather large and had to be unpicked and reattached. At least the Jersey fabric is forgiving. What did I learn this time? Try things on from time to time and they might even fit properly and keep on buying the remnants they do eventually come in useful!

Messenger Bag

So my idea to make birthday presents for friends progressed well until the end of March. I made this messenger bag, following a pattern in Simply Sewing Magazine. I learnt several new skills including putting in a zip and lining and squaring off the corners. I was pleased with the result, but it took a bit of unpicking to get the zip and corners in the right place! I like the combination of the red strap, the blue denim and the white and blue lining.  My friend liked the colours and I think she will use it. It is quite her style. As with other hand-mades, I wouldn’t say that it was particularly cost effective despite both the main and lining fabrics being remnants that I had picked up locally.  However, I’ve got some good sized d-rings for future makes!

Progressing my ‘Eye on the Planet’ piece

As ever, the decision to stitch or blog has meant that I’m a bit behind with blogging.  I’ve been progressing this piece whilst making a few things for myself and for gifts. The hot weather spurs me on to make summer clothes and all my friends’ birthday’s seem to fall at this time of year. So I think this project is on target for its June completion date, I’m making steady progress. I guess this first picture was taken around the beginning of April. I like to work methodically, creating the outlines of the subject first of all.

Eye on the planet fishies

This second picture was taken about a week ago and I’m making steady progress filling in the gaps. You might be able to see that I have appliqued some satin and some net around the seaweed and have stitched some other sections. I always work with ‘real’ stitches, worked freely and over each other. There is small, formal cross stitch at the bottom and free form cross stitch in chenille towards the top and some couching incorporating beads. You can also see some rafia French knot bubbles. The piece is progressing up the canvas towards a lighter blue surface. I love working in this way. I feel I’ve found my voice.

Eye on the planet red weed





Keep an Eye on the Planet

Dress-making put aside now, I’m back to embroidery, this time working on my project for the Guldusi call for submissions. The brief asks that work has not been exhibited online, so I will only be showing some brief, work in progress, shots. I really want to produce a Bright and Beautiful, trademark piece. I have come to the conclusion that my personal style, as in the banner picture for my blog, is my favourite way of working and although time consuming, it is what my work is really about; bright colours, thick threads, cords, dense stitching – a piece I can be proud of.

The Bea Blouse

Having successfully completed my pinny I was straight on to the next thing. This time following a free pattern from Simply Sewing magazine, the Bea Blouse. After a post-Christmas fabric splurge, I was determined to use some of my fabric stash and the only piece large enough to fit the pattern was this rather ‘Pat Butcher’ fabric, not really me, but anyway! What a fantastic pattern, not only was it printed onto proper paper that you can use again, but the instructions came with pictures! Why on earth don’t other patterns do this? That terrible ‘right sides together’ moment photographed for you to see exactly where you should be stitching. I’m so proud of myself for following it to the letter. It is the first time I’ve tried a complicated (well, for me) neckline and sleeves. I handstitched the hems to give it that luxury finish.  Just have to wear it now! What would I do differently next time? Go for a lighter fabric, perhaps, so the tie will be more bow-like, but actually this fabric, a thicker, slightly stretchy cotton, was so stable to cut and work with that it was great for a first time project.


My brain seems a little slow at the moment, I’d like to think relaxed, but just in case it needs a little stimulation, I’ve decided that I will endeavour to learn some new skills and to conquer my fear of ‘right sides together’, i.e. construction techniques. So, I undertook this ‘easy make’ from Simply Sewing magazine. This pinny was made using just 2 fat quarters. It is perhaps more decorative than practical. I learnt some cutting out and construction techniques, including how to join lengths of fabric to make a longer piece for the tie belt. This is where you could have done with a bit of extra fabric to make a wider belt and to make it easier to turn the right way out once it had been sewn together.   Next time I will match my top stitch thread to the fabric and not try and go for opposites! Its not embroidery now! Teamed with some baking implements or a cookery book, this will make a nice present for someone.