My Handmade Style: Karen from Did You Make That?

From vintage chic to clean modern shapes, how do these seamstresses create and communicate their own unique style in their projects? What and who inspires them, from film and music to everyday life. And what’s their dream outfit?

Oh we’ve got a corker to kick off the new year for you. This lady is tremendously popular with you lot so who better to take us into 2013 with her style secrets? I give you… a very modest Karen Ball from the hugely influential (and hilarious) blog Did You Make That?

Karen, I’ve watched you develop your handmade style over the last year or so. Your nods to vintage couture and love of colourful prints really mark you out as a stylish lady. But how would you sum up your handmade style?

You’re right that I like strong colours, but I still don’t feel as though I have a particularly defined sense of style. Some bloggers know exactly what furrow they plough, and stick with it. I’m a bit of a butterfly that skitters around from one thing to the other. I feel as though my personal sense of style has maybe only started to settle over recent months. And I only think that because readers have told me so!

But creativity is all about experimenting and being brave enough to make mistakes. If you have a blog, you’ll make those mistakes in public!

Where do you find your style inspiration and how do you channel that into your me-made wardrobe?

Whenever I go to the hairdresser, I devour their copy of Vogue magazine! I love this for inspiration – soaking up colours, fabrics, just the feel of the season. Once you get past the laughably unachievable prices and lifestyle, and just treat the magazine as a mood board, it becomes a much more interesting read.

I people watch like mad! London is a great fashion capital and just walking the streets or sitting on the tube, I’m surrounded by people who really know what they’re doing.

Like most Sewists, I see something on another person’s blog and want to emulate it. I’m trying to be a bit more cautious on that front, though. So many patterns ordered, so many patterns still sitting in drawers…

Sewing meet ups have had a big impact. They’re a great opportunity to share knowledge and tips, see other people’s outfits and just get out of your own groove. Swaps are excellent for testing your comfort zone – you often go home with  something you’d never have looked at otherwise.

What’s your creative process in deciding what to make? Is it a fabric-based decision or a pattern that inspires you?

Choosing what to make is a very, very organic process for me. I am not someone who draws up a list at the start of the year (barring my Sewlutions promise to conquer the blouse). I have enough commitments and deadlines in my working life, so never plan much more than 2/3 months ahead. My stash is pretty small. I tend to start with a pattern and then find the fabric. When I made the Simplicity 4934 with Beth at Sunny Gal Studios, I bought my vintage pattern and then hit Goldhawk Road. I knew right away that the lavender wool I saw there was the right choice for me. I still can’t forgive the shop for refusing me a discount, though – I bought eight metres of that stuff!

Who are your style icons and why?

Hmmm. Am I allowed to say I don’t really have any? (Of course! – Ed) I mean, there are looks I like, but I’ve never consciously tried to emulate anyone else. I do LOVE the silhouette of any woman who is long and lithe – in another life I will be born into a body that
is all long limbs and tapering fingers! Okay, if forced to say, I would be a female character in any novel by F Scott Fitzgerald – just without the nerves and drinking!

But flapper dresses don’t really work in the mean streets of Walthamstow and I still haven’t found a speakeasy in E17.

Are there any particular designers or high street stores that you use for inspiration?

I pop into Top Shop Oxford Circus when I’m passing. I do like to see what the youngsters are up to! I love Uniqlo right now. But, honestly, um – no! In fact, high fashion annoys me sometimes. I’ve bought two peplum patterns and now I wonder if it’s even worth bothering to sew them – the peplum ship has sailed.

If you had to select one self-stitched garment that really encapsulates your style – what would it be and why?

I still really like the Vogue 8667 dress that I made during my first term at Morley College. It has just a touch of retro and I used a wonderful magenta wool. I loves me a wool dress!

Why do you sew what you sew? Do you choose projects on a whim or do you look at your existing wardrobe and spot vital gaps to fill?

Often, I’ll get curious and want to expand my knowledge. I want to work with leather soon, just to find out how to work with leather! I recently made a ruched sleeve top because I wanted to understand ruched sleeves. I loved the learning curve of making Gertie’s Bombshell Dress, even though I knew I’d hardly ever wear the finished item. I just wanted to learn! And when I made my Vogue 8548 coat I plunged into the unknown of tailoring. I have merely scratched the surface. The more you learn, the more you realise how little you know…

Do you ever take risks and experiment with your look? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

I think that when you start sewing, you often take really big risks – you’re plunging into a whole, new world and there’s a certain amount of liberation there. Plus, you just don’t know how to make the right choices! So, yes, I’ve definitely experimented. Some of it has worked and some of it hasn’t.

The Sencha blouse was a horror story for me! The Taffy blouse made me feel like a clown. Oh dear, that looks as though I’m knocking Colette Patterns, which I am not at all. Two cases of not understanding what suits me and making bad fabric choices. What HAS worked have been some lovely dresses. I love a well-fitted dress. My two versions of Simplicity 1882 were both big hits and extremely comfortable.

And I remain very fond of the Butterick 5605 dress I made in floral cotton for a friend’s vintage-themed wedding.

There are certain looks some of us just can’t pull off… do you have a style bugbear?

Oh, the high neckline is my sworn enemy! I have a round face and need to give it space. I really admire the layered look, but not on my figure – I just look like I don’t know how to get dressed in the morning. I wear skinny jeans and jeggings but need to ensure that my derriere is sufficiently covered. I’ve realised that gathered skirts don’t do any favours for my paunch, which is a shame because they’re so easy to make! I look dreadful in most pairs of shorts. And I will never, ever wear anything that reveals a midriff. Shudder.

What would be your dream outfit, existing or otherwise?

Something comfortable! My issue with uber-fitted dresses is – what do you do after you’ve eaten a meal?! But I tend to go too far the other way and sometimes make items that are a bit roomy. I have days when I really want to cover up – then my dream outfit would be a sack (or the Vogue 1179, which I have made four times now)! On more confident days, my dream outfit would be a beautifully fitted, understated dress, maybe in wool, probably in a solid colour!

What other sewing bloggers would you recommend for great individual style?

I absolutely love A Fashionable Stitch right now. She has such a good eye for colour and is  really doing a lot with practical, comfortable yet stylish day wear.

DIY Couture is urban, edgy, hip – and just a lovely person! She’s so cool and creative, I want to be her. Those other lives I need to live are stacking up…

I’ve always liked Boo Dogg and Me. She works wonders with linen. You see, it’s that  elusive, layered look again…

Finally, what’s on your sewing table right now?

A blouse! Then I’d like to make a couple of daywear skirts (one including leather), and then I think I might feel a dress coming on. Can’t beat a good dress! I’m annoyed that I still haven’t wrestled New Look 6000 to the ground. And before the end of 2013, I need to conquer my Sewlution

You are a modest minnie Karen but we love you for it. What a way with wool you have! Thanks for sharing your handmade style with us.


20 thoughts on “My Handmade Style: Karen from Did You Make That?

  1. can you give us karen’s address so i can go round and steal her wardrobe? that blue coat! the magenta dress! the wool suit! must add simplicity 1882 to my to buy list – i love those pockets and neckline.

  2. Pingback: It’s All Go! | Did You Make That?

  3. Amazing interview to start the year! Karen is such an inspiring seamstress and blogger and writer! LOVE that teal Simplicity dress, especially paired with those tights.

  4. I LOOOOOOOOOVE Karen’s blog! She writes about the most interesting things, really brings some of the reality of sewing into a funny light and she’s just terribly terribly entertaining. I love the things she sews and I really think its so fun to watch what she comes up with because she can be pretty and practical (combining both elements is soooo hard to do for me). My favorite garment so far is that wonderful teal dress with the bow – sooooooo cute and its looks like the pattern was designed for her! You’re a peach Karen! We all love you!

  5. Aw, wonderful interview Joanne, we all love Karen! I’d agree with Tilly that my favourites are her two Simplicity 1882 makes. She’s also got a bit of a magic touch with wool! x

  6. I’d agree, what a wonderful interview, thank you!! I have also noticed that Karen is not scared of sewing with quality fabric, particularly some lovely wools ( like Jane says). Lovely to see how such organic style works !!

  7. Great post! I love Karen’s blog so much, and it’s fun to read more about her style and process! Her favorite handmade garments are some of mine, too– she really knows what suits her!

  8. Thanks for the shout-out Karen! And I love your blog – it is one I always read every post of – even though I lack time for commenting these days, I always read.

  9. Ahh! Awesome to get a chance to hear about Karen’s inner-stylistic thoughts! Those Simplicity 1882’s are so incredible. Thanks both of you for rigging up this interview! xxx

  10. I’m loving this series. When I first started sewing I think I completely lost track of my sense of style as there were just so many possibilities. Think I’m getting to grips with it now though and it’s so great to see other people’s!
    I really enjoy reading your blog and have nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award, there’s a post about it on my blog

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