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In the month of May…

6 May

…nearly six months after resolving to refrain from buying clothing, and live on only what I could make for myself, I broke my resolution. Yes, dear readers, I did it: I bought retail clothing.  But as I said last December, “breaking rules is part of fashion, too, and it will be interesting to find those lines along which my personal ambitions crumble.”
And it is an interesting line, indeed. It turns out that my sewing “kryptonite” is none other but the classic black dress. I bought two, to wear for specific events coming up on my schedule. Yes, I could have made my own black dress. For one of them, I even made it as far as buying a pattern, working through all the elements of the dress that I wanted, and committing to one specific design. I bought the pattern…and there the project languished. I could not muster up any enthusiasm to go to the fabric store, just to look for the right length of black cloth. I hemmed and hawed and procrastinated, until I realized that even if I found the fabric, I no longer have enough time to complete the project before the intended event.

The fabric store, you see, was my final obstacle to the process. Fabric stores, to me, are seductive places of whim and fancy and imagination: “What could this become?” The lure of textures and patterns that I haven’t discovered, before. This fabric has shine–and look, that one is nubby, and who would have ever thought, of putting these two colors together in this way?  Black, for all its virtues, has no lure of the undiscovered. Black is wonderful, in many, many respects, but as a crafting project, I do not find it tantalizing. The idea of sewing black fabric to more black fabric made me…not want to sew, at all. Add to that the problem that my selected design came fully lined, as well–so then I would embark on sewing the thing (the outside) and then repeating the whole thing another time (for the inside), and stitching the two together. Two miles of stitches, and all in black, and the task seemed sheer duty rather than pleasure, and I just could not bear to do it.

Painting: “She Wore Black” by Loui Jover.

So I bought up two little black dresses–one very basic, that I surely could have made myself, but in a dutiful fabric that would never call to me from the bolt, and one with many details (pointed collar, button plackets, turned-up cuffs) that I love to work on, but would never find patience to complete, in a black-on-black version.

So there you have it: I am a great lover of black dresses, I find them a very useful uniform in my daily life, but I simply cannot bear to sew them, myself.  And having purchased two (surely enough to get me through the hardest times) I went for a celebratory jaunt to my favorite local fabric store, where I bought yards of bright red cherry-blossom print, and Ikat, and 1960’s modernist print, and a lovely layered and textured piece in a deep rose-brown. In short, anything and everything but solid black!   And then I started stitching again, duty banished, and immersed in the joy of the craft, once more.

Progress Report

24 Mar

It’s been about three months since I decided I wouldn’t buy any clothing retail, and that when I wanted something to wear, I would make it myself. So, “How’s it going?”

Oddly enough, I have a lot more clothes.  More, perhaps, than had I been shopping for them. Rather than feel limited in my options, as you can see, I’ve been making a lot. One of the good features of being in this mindset, I’ve found, is that it’s given me an incentive to finish projects I started long ago. I’m finding that many of my earlier craft intentions are still interesting to me now, so I might as well finish it. I love this side effect, it’s been a delight to rediscover creative projects long left buried or passed over for other distractions.

The other big change is a newfound immunity to retail stores and websites. Years ago, I cut out sugar and white flour from my diet for a time, and I remember the most remarkable thing during that period was that I would be on a street lined with restaurants and bakeries, and I would think, “but they have no food!” What I meant was that they had no food that I could eat, on that particular diet, but it was peculiar feeling, of being immune to all the options that surrounded me.

I feel that way now with my former shopping temptations. I haven’t set foot in a retail boutique in months, I’ve unsubscribed from endless email marketing newsletters, and recently I pondered a storefront with a little odd detachment, like “what are these places filled with endless copies of the exact same garment done over and over again?”

The third effect I have noticed during this time is a renewed creative focus. I had forgotten how soothing I find the “making” process, how engrossed in the process I become, and how happy it feels, to be fully in that state of creative “flow”. I  can be working on something small and simple, meaningless–but it’s still immensely satisfying. I find it very calming and restorative, and I realize I’m using this project very much as an excuse to prioritize this hobby, for now, and take time out just to be by myself in this comfortable state.

And that is why I’m ending up with all these brand new clothes!

I also feel I should confess here that I have purchased one wearable item, a hand-made and hand-dyed scarf, which I bought directly from the maker. I was inspired to support the craft of other creative designers and workers, as well, and hers is a craft I have yet to attempt, let alone master, so I thought for that reason I would make an exception.

Although, unlike my inspiration, Natalie Purschwitz, I am continuing to wear my ready-made clothes right along with my handmade clothes, these days I find I wear something self-made nearly every day. The the head-to-toe handmade outfits happen more and more frequently without intention. But even more days are about 2/3 handmade–if I spent a week or two focusing on little tops and tees for layering, I could likely remedy that in short order, one of these days.

Someone asked me recently “So are you going to do it all year long?” and I found myself replying, quite before I had time to think about it, “at this rate, I may never buy retail clothing again.”  We’ll see!

The Traveling Seamstress

19 Jan

I’m going on a short business trip at the end of this month. I’m tempted to give myself a mini-challenge, and pack and wear for the trip only clothing I’ve made, myself. A sort of test, if you will, to see how well I’m laying down the groundwork for the larger project: can I, by the end of January, get by for just a few days with nothing store-bought?

It’d be easy if I stick to shift dresses, I have enough of those by now! But I’m not sure how many days in a row I want to wear just a shift dress. Harder, if I try to do separates. Harder still when limited to things that coordinate with my most comfortable walking shoes!  I have some good work-ready hand-knits from years past, but what this idea reveals, even in its conceptual phase, is a lack of handmade tops: while I have some knitted overlayers, I still rely on basic shells and tanks and shirts along with my handmade skirts.  And there’s the shoe thing. I foresee a lot of forced pairings with black.

Still, I’m tempted to try it. I like the idea of living out of suitcase filled with items that are unique to me. I’m planning on making a number of short (2-4 day) trips this year, and if I do it consistently, each trip, it may be a good measure of progress along the way.

In the fantastical world of my imagination, this all looks glamorously like an old airline ad. A carefree, jet-setting lifestyle of freedom brought about by modern technology and fashion.  Reality, of course, has a way of turning out somewhat different.

I suppose now that I’ve written it out, I’ve as good as committed to it. Well, I’ll let you know how it goes! You can have hotel outfit updates, and grade me on my success or lack thereof. We’ll play “count the retail items in Julie’s suitcase.”

Clothes Shopping and Fantasy Fulfillment

7 Jan

How the retail clothes-buying experience usually goes:

1) Spot some item you didn’t know you needed but that suddenly seems, upon looking, like exactly the thing you always desired, and that instantly promises a life of glamour and wonder to go along with it.

2) Buy item, with momentary burst of excitement and enthusiasm for it.

3) Spot some new item, at which point first item becomes “old” and the cycle immediately begins anew.


How this project is supposed to work:

1) First identify a need. Decide upon an item that might best fulfill that need, and design item specifically to fit all details of that need.

2) Produce item beautifully and in top quality, to wear and love long-term, knowing that it fits its purpose (and your life) exactly.

How this project is going, so far:

1) Think of all possible needs, and all the items that might fill them. Then think of any other items that might be desired, though not needed, and try to create some need for them. Once you’ve completely overwhelmed yourself with all possible choices, settle on one that might be actually feasible to produce.

2) Attempt to design and make this item, using materials found in your workroom, and fitting it to your body.

3) Give up in exasperation. Go look at pretty pictures on the internet of things that other people have succeeded in making.

My Plan.

16 Dec

Okay, I admit straight up that this might be one of the more hair-brained ideas I’ve ever come up with, in the morning, before coffee.  But I’m several cups of coffee into the day and it’s still sounding doable, like I have to at least give it a try, at least for a little while.

The Source:

A vague dissatisfaction with my own consumer behavior, dissatisfaction with the fit and quality of commercial clothing that I buy, coupled with a nearly-compulsive desire to make things, most of the time.

My plan:

My plan is to suspend shopping and look instead for ways to make for myself all the clothing items I want to add to my wardrobe.   I’m going to make some exceptions: shoes, for example. Thrifted items that I remake to fit my own purposes. Tights and underwear. I know it’s possible to make one’s own brassiere, but at this moment I’m not tempted to try…though I won’t rule it out for the future, if that desire should be born. But also, I know that I’m making up my own rules for this project, and I’m likely to break them, as well…but breaking rules is part of fashion, too, and it will be interesting to find those lines along which my personal ambitions crumble.

My assets:

I am already proficient at both sewing and knitting, with an easy willingness (and a lot of tools already in my possession) to take on various other crafts.  I have a work space, too– a whole sewing room…a mess, of course (which inspires the title of this page) but a workable space just the same. I also, very importantly, have a completely functional wardrobe already filled with stuff. The reality is that like most of my American contemporaries, I rarely need new clothes, I buy them just because I like them…as entertainment, almost. And it is satisfying entertainment, to me, finding things to wear and finding new ways to wear them, but how much more entertaining could it be, if I got even more involved in the process?

I can learn so much!

And here, I enclose for your pleasure a photo of a recently finished dress project, as proof of possibilities, and as evidence that yes, I am fully capable of making clothing worth wearing out into the world. So even if I founder, I probably won’t suffer too badly along the way!


Make all the things!

16 Dec

I like clothing, and I like to make things.

What would happen if I made all the things that I wear?