Archive | the Sewing Process RSS feed for this section

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.

Handbag Mess

29 Apr

After a week of carrying about my handmade handbag, I need to make another one. That’s the problem with the whole “design your own” deal: you really do have to do the project a bunch of times, to make it work out right.

Problems that I will resolve in the next bag:

-the body fabric is too lightweight. If I use linen or dressmaking fabric, I need not only to line the bag, but also layer the top fabric over a stronger fabric. It’s too floppy, and the vinyl pulls down heavily on the soft and flexible linen. Even interfacing isn’t durable enough for daily purse wear.

-the snaps keep coming off. Snaps are not an appropriate way to close the top of a handbag, where one must open and close it dozens of times a day, reaching in repeatedly for keys, subway card, phone, change, etc. For the revision, I’ll use magnets, and set them right into the plastic canvas that gives structure to the top flap.

-the top flaps also have too much flop and wobble, especially when I carry the bag in the “tote” manner where the straps pulls each side at a slight angle. Particularly when the snaps aren’t holding tightly (which is always), the whole bag skews slightly from the weight pulling unevenly from the straps.

Back to the drawing board!

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!


11 Mar

Sometimes I spend so much time in the “planning” stages of a project, I can hardly muster up the courage to move into “execution”.  Like, I have an idea, and I’ve tested it with scraps of fabric, and I’ve matched the idea to a particular fabric, and I’ve measured, and I’ve drawn out the pattern, and I’ve gotten all the things I need together in one place…and then I get stuck.

Like, “What if I’m forgetting something?” or “What if this idea would really work better on a slightly different item?” or “maybe I would like it better, in the end, if I added some other variation or detail to the design that I just haven’t thought of, yet.” “Maybe I should think about it, a while longer.”

The planning part of the project is full of fantasy. In my imagination, beforehand, every project I undertake quite naturally ends up wonderful. Taking a fantasy and making it real comes with risks. Sometimes things don’t match up to my imaginings. It’s this point just in between, teetering  between what’s in my head, and what might come to life on my sewing table….that’s the root of all my crafting procrastinations.

I could teeter here, for ages.

Crafting Repetition

27 Feb

Knitters talk about “Second Sock Syndrome”, where, once one sock is completed, you just don’t feel any energy or desire to work on the second, and the one sock is left there, forlorn, the pair incomplete. I have Second Sock Syndrome pretty bad, myself. It also manifests as “Second Sleeve Syndrome”.  Many of my sweater projects are short sleeves, to allow for my sleeve impatience, and for my “Que Sera” sweater I compensated by knitting both sleeves at the same time, from two separate skeins of yarn.
The reason, for me personally, is that one of the key things I enjoy about knitting is the process of discovery along the way: this  is how this stitch motif works up, here is how you adjust it for decreases, here is how you bring the shoulder together with the sleeve. It’s like a puzzle, and once I’ve uncovered the process, the puzzle is “solved” in my head, and to repeat it all over again, stitch for stitch, seems as appealing to  me as working the same crossword puzzle twice to a crossword aficionado. I already know how it all fits together!

I know there are as many ways to think about knitting as there are knitters, but for me, the puzzle component is essential  to my enjoyment. I rarely knit the same thing twice, and if I do, I make dramatic changes–a completely different fiber or weight, or adding in new details to the design.
Now, I’m discovering that this need for a puzzle and the “Second Sock Syndrome” is extending to my sewing, as well.  Yes, I made five different versions of my Wear the Shift pattern. But each one was a variation on the theme, and that amplified the “puzzle” rather than diminish it: how does the pattern work, on a stretch fabric? How does it work with this sleeve, with a back zipper, with a collar, with different darts?  The puzzle was ongoing, and intrigue built into the process.

Where SSS affects my sewing most is with muslins. I understand, intellectually, the usefulness of mocking up a pattern before cutting into your good, expensive fabric. I particulary think it’s good when venturing into whole new realms of garment construction, and I have two underway, right now: one for my blazer project and one for my cape jacket.

And this is where my sewer’s “Second Sock Syndrome”  kicks in full blast.  I’m puzzling through the process, and rather than a finished item to be proud of, all I end up with is a muslin pattern with marks all over it. And while it may be nice to take that pattern and find good fabric to make it in, part of my brain has already galloped off singing “Tra, la la, what ELSE might I make today? Something new and exciting, that I’ve never made before!”

When offered the choice between finishing up that muslin for once and for all, and then making the entire thing over again one more time, or finding a brand-new pattern and starting afresh on something undiscovered, my personality is such  that I will choose the new thing, nearly every time. So my muslin blazer mock-up lies partially finished in a laundry basket, like so many singleton socks in my collection.

Yes, my real blazer muslin has only one sleeve, too. It’s as if my “Second Sleeve” problem from knitting crashed my sewing party with a vengeance. Usually by the time I set the sleeves into a sewing project, I’m rolling down the home stretch in my mind, envisioning wearing my garment out in the world, happily anticipating the conclusion. But for the muslin, that first sleeve loomed so large, the first of four I would have to sew before I would ever have a wearable blazer, that I haven’t yet even been able to move on to the second.

Maybe there is no cure. It’s possible that this is just part of my crafting personality that I will have to perpetually take into account when lining up new projects: I have a limited attention span, and little patience for repetition, and that will shape my sewing projects as much as it has always shaped my knitting.


Pants, Pants, and more Pants

21 Feb

I don’t wear pants very often.

It’s not a rule, per se, or a thing that I do, intentionally, wearing only skirts (although I’m a great fan and admirer of the No Pants! blog.)

I just figured out a while ago that in all photos of me taken anywhere, I prefer the way I look in skirts and dresses to pants, and since then, I’ve tried out various theories, in the following progression of thought:
1) Pants are particularly difficult to fit on MY body, and I just need to find the right styles and stick to those.

(and I drew this little sketch to illustrate it.)
2) I’m actually not really sure how to fit pants, and many of the ones I buy simply don’t fit very well, and I just squeeze myself into them, not knowing the difference, having quite likely spent my entire life thus far in ill-fitting pants.

Continue reading

Sewing vs. Knitting

16 Feb

(Not that it’s a competition, because both are so fabulous.)  But they are not interchangeable.

And they are completely different exercises to undertake.

At first, when I started knitting, I thought it was so much more tedious than sewing. After all, sewing is relatively quick: If you have the right piece of fabric, you can often turn it into a three-dimensional garment with the addition of a few well-placed seams. Whip, whip! You have a skirt. The fabric does most of the work.  Whereas, with knitting, one builds the fabric stitch by stitch. And when you have built it and built it, stitch upon stitch, you then have…pieces of fabric, which you still get to sew together to create a garment.  All that work, and the knitter ends up with another version of what the savvy seamstress cuts from a bolt in a fabric store.

But then I kept knitting….and knitting, and knitting. And I learned that what knitting has going for it is that it doesn’t require such focus. I can knit and talk at the same time. Knit in a moving vehicle, knit and watch a movie. I’ve even knitted at poker games.  I’m not saying that it can’t be done, setting a sleeve or inserting a flat-fell seam while playing Texas hold’em…but, well, I’ll say it can’t be done by me. Most parts of sewing require a fair bit of mental attention–and sewing projects are often less than portable. The actions of sewing take up space all their own. I traipse from cutting table to sewing machine and then back out into my hallway, where I set up my ironing board, to press the most recent seam.  It’s hard even to have someone in the room to carry on a conversation, while I’m turning this way and that, walking about, running the sewing machine and mumbling around the pins in my mouth.  Hence, sewing’s comparatively asocial.  It likes a room of its own and some good music in the background.

As I balance the two, I notice it becomes a question not of what project is most alluring to me on any given day, but of what structure my day has. Do I have some free time to spend alone, in my home, trotting back and forth from pressing to stitching? Or am I on the move today, with only moments free riding the bus? Or maybe, today, my real focus is spending time watching Downton Abbey, and “creativity” of any sort will be only my secondary pastime.

Because when I’m busy, and the time for crafting happens only on a train going here or there, or overlaps other activities, I find that the stitch-by-stitch method of production in knitting sometimes make for craft projects that get finished much quicker, in calendar time, no matter how much more labor-intensive they may seem.