Simplicity 9618 skirt
I once worked with a guy who had synesthesia – that exotic neurological quirk that causes someone’s senses to cross paths so they associate numbers with colours; names with smells; sounds with tastes. Colleagues and I would have all sorts of fun at after work drinks – quizzing him on which colour certain numbers were (seven was burnt yellow – who knew?); on what smell he associated with certain words. I think we even made a drinking game of it for a while. Good times.
Sometimes I suspect we fabric fanatics have a similar quirk – we respond to fabrics with all of our senses, and often in crazy, mixed up ways. Because fabric is never just cloth – it sparks memories, emotions and sensory associations that can feel weirdly overwhelming. I see it sometimes in fabric shops – people literally buried in a bolt of cloth, feeling it with all of their senses, lost in the moment. No wonder we spend so much and stash so much – this thing is bigger than we are (or at least, that’s what I tell myself).
So here are a few of mine: Tartan is jabbing my leg with a kilt pin. Mesh is Madonna. Velour is the smell of mothballs and viyella is the smell of my grandpa’s gin and tonic. Canvas is fruit picking and rayon is ironed sweat. Raw silk is old Italian arthouse movies. Linen for a long time was Simon Le Bon singing Hungry Like the Wolf (I know – I’m working on it….) and lace is Picnic at Hanging Rock. Shot silk is the smell of lighter fluid and barbequed meat. Taffeta is blistered feet and strapless bras slipping around your middle. Fleece is the smell of eucalyptus and trodden-on ants and towelling is hot concrete.
And cord? To me it’s the late 70s/early 80s, both remembered and imagined. Groovy kid clothes and mums in high waisted flared skirts and Holly Hobby and trousers with bald knees that that made a swooshing noise as you walked. So when I spotted this blue and grey, swirly, floral micro-cord tucked away in a corner in Nomura Tailor in Kyoto, I was swept off on a little wave of childhood nostalgia overload and I pounced on it quick smart. I loved it.
As with so many favourite fabrics, this one had me paused with indecision for a while – mainly because I didn’t want to make the wrong choice. I didn’t want to succumb to everything that I associate with corduroy and make something that was more vintage fancy dress than practical garment. (I’ve fallen for that trick a number of times). I wanted to wear this fabric – a lot.
And then I stumbled across this shot, from a photography exhibition from Hull, way, way up in the north of England. It was those beautiful otherworldly-looking hounds that first grabbed my attention. Then her eyebrows. And then that skirt. Such a gorgeous skirt, such a moody photo (pity about the gun…). I knew immediately that I wanted to make something similar: midi (I don’t do full-length), high waisted, flared, sort of 70s but not screamingly so. Isn’t it funny what sparks a decision sometimes?
Once I’d decided on the type of skirt I wanted, the rest came together pretty quickly. I shuffled through my vintage patterns and found Simplicity 9618. The pattern pieces were all carefully cut out and ready to go, thanks to a former owner (my favourite bit about op-shop patterns). I added a centimetre to the centre of both the front and back pieces because I’ve found that vintage waists tend to be on the small side for size. Other than that I followed the pattern verbatim and found it was a straightforward, simple make – the zip went in like a dream, the hem hung pretty straight, the waistband behaved. I had a few small hiccups with some pulling at the pockets, but resolved it (I hope) with lots of steam from the iron. If I could do it all again I’d deepen the pockets a lot because they’re almost comically short (surely ladies a few decades back didn’t have arms that short or hands that tiny??).
My verdict? I’m pretty sure I like it. I think I’ll wear it more than occasionally. And I hope it’s not too nostalgic looking. While fabric memories can prompt strong associations, it’s nice to reclaim a fabric for more contemporary purposes. I did it with linen this summer (apologies to Duran Duran for finally moving on), and hopefully I’ve done it with cord now.
PS – at the risk of getting into Celeste Barber territory, I insisted that Klarissa take a shot of me, my skirt and my own otherworldly hound. Safe to say Rocky was not compliant.