Shift-ing into Summer

9 Jun

Turning my back on black, it’s time to bring out the color. I went back to the embroidered Indian fabric I originally bought for a skirt, in March, when the weather was still cold. I wanted more than a skirt. Plus, I haven’t been sewing in a few weeks (other projects took over my attention) so I needed something light and easy to get back into it.

I chose what is becoming my standby, my “Wear the Shift” pattern:

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I laid the pattern out right along the lace edging of the fabric, to use the fabric’s border as a hem. And since it was scalloped on both sides, I cut the strip of scallops off the opposite side to use that, as well, as a double-layered scallop. Since the lace needed to be fully lined, anyway, I attached the second strip of lace to the hem of the lining underneath.

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It’s bright, it’s summery, it’s decidedly not black, and all of that is good. However, reading sewing blogs has made me paranoid about wrinkles, and this dress definitely wrinkles. If wrinkles point out areas of poor fit, then something is surely off, here, which is troubling, because this is my custom built-for-me dress pattern that I’ve made a half dozen times. It could be the way the lace lays over the lining, or it could be the way the grain shifted slightly as I lined the pattern up by the hem rather than the true grainline…or it could be a few added pounds. It’s difficult to say for sure, except the one sure thing I am learning in this project is that “fit is hard”.

And even the old “tried and true” can throw you for a loop, when you’re getting all creative with it.

Don’t you step on my blue suede…

16 May

…skirt!

That’s what I made out of that length of ultrasuede fabric I was given.

I went over a number of different ideas for it, but in the end thought I’d get the most wear out of a skirt, and I wanted to keep the shape simple to let the color be the focus. (I even, get this, made a practice version first…but don’t worry, I won’t get in that habit.) ūüôā

The pattern is Simplicity2152, and I originally made the version with the welts, but decided I liked unadorned, straight seams better.

 

 

I’m still toying with the idea of adding some additional embellishment, but I thought I’d wear it out and about, first, to test it, and enjoy it at least once this way before I take it any further. I left the hem raw, just because with ultrasuede, you can, like all the 1970’s Halston dresses left with cuffs unhemmed.

Wounds

14 May

If swimmers get “swimmer’s ear” and tennis players are prone to “tennis elbow”, then surely this is “Seamstress’s Arm”:

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Small burns, stacked up along the inside of my right forearm, from reaching around the hot iron when I’ve placed it wrong on my work table. No sooner does one heal when I hit it just¬† wrong, again, and get a fresh one.

Other people’s intentions

13 May

One of the outcomes of this project, so far, is that people have started to give me their own fabric–some very generous gifts, most often pieces they acquired for projects they intended to make, themselves, or are passing on from someone else they inherited it from. All of these, so far, have been rather beautiful fabrics. They’re the kinds of fabric people hold on to for a long time–other more day-to-day fabric supplies can be passed on, sold at yard sales or handed to thrift stores, but many sewers have special pieces they keep close, with full intentions of completing a project, some day.
It is these extra-special pieces that now find their way to my fortunate hands. In my mind, these bring with them their own special requirements. If someone has been holding on to a piece of cloth for years, after all, then surely they have spent those years imagining it as something beautiful. It feels like an additional responsibility: to do the fabric proud, to live up to not only my own expectations for it, but also the expectations of the person (or whole lineage of people) who passed the cloth along the line. After all, if they’ve now decided to give it to me, it implies trust: a trust that I will be able to make of it what the cloth’s previous owners did not.

The piece of “entrusted” fabric that I am working with, today, is an electric blue ultrasuede. I’ve never sewed with ultrasuede, before, but I simply love the color of this, and want to do it proud.

Tailoring

12 May

This afternoon I accompanied my gentleman companion to a men’s clothier to buy some shirts. Retail clothes shopping for men is an entirely different proposition than for women.¬† Observing the process was an eye-opener for me.

The salesmen, for starters, all carry measuring tapes about their necks. “Here, let me measure you first,” they offered each man, to make sure the selection he had made would fit him before he even approached the dressing room. In this world, it was clear, numbers matter. This clothing follows the numbers.

The first measurement they took was the neck circumference. “We can tailor the body of the shirt to fit,” one salesman said, “But if the neck doesn’t fit, there’s little you can do about it.”

Then they measure  the arm: from center spine at the base of the neck, to the point of the shoulder, to the elbow, and down to the break of the wrist, for the full arm measurement. And then, armed with these two  numbers, a man can then approach the selection of shirts with a focused search, knowing exactly what section is built for his body.

I also learned about the variations in the slight line of the shirt collars, to distinguish styles: a spread collar, to balance a long, lean face–a moderate spread, or a pointed line to balance a wider face. The shirts, to me, all look identical in shape to begin with, but once you tune in to these subtle differences, a whole new world of style opens up–subtle lines and angles to distinguish and complement the angles of the face and body.

And I watched the way men try on clothes, for fit. “Come sit down over here,” one salesman gestured to a bench, so that he could inspect the way his client’s pants lifted when the leg bent to sit.

They also offer an on-site tailoring service. If you’re¬† slim and the shirt you like doesn’t come in slim fit, any of the choices with the right neck size and arm length can be tailored, right there, for $15. (I asked. I also asked if they did women’s garments. “We do,” said the salesmen reluctantly, “But we don’t really like to.”)

And then, to another client, I heard a salesman say about some small tweak, “Let me take it in the back to our tailor, and we’ll have it out at the register in a few minutes, if you can wait.”

I admit, I was jealous. Imagine, for one moment, a similar setup for women’s clothing. Salespeople armed with tape measures, and a directed, two-point measurement scale that helps you find the size that’s best for your body. Hanging a garment from one’s neck and shoulders, and tailoring the rest to fit once the top is properly in place. A standardized sizing system, with everything sorted appropriately. And most of all, a dressing room etiquette that’s focused on finding the garment that fits properly, that skims your body in all the right places and hangs to all the right levels without wrinkling, and with that on-staff tailor who will take in the extra fabric and lift the hemline, in some cases before you even pay for your purchase.

Instead we are left to struggle with armloads of choices with few returns. Salespeople in women’s stores will bring you another size, from the other side of the door, but when you step out in front of the three-way mirror they would never helpfully point out the way it wrinkles wrong in the back, and bring out the tailor to adjust it. If the rise is too low or the shoulders too sloped, there’s no size just one inch up or down to reach for, no subtle variation on the same style–instead you’re left to wander the sales floor, alone, to find some other thing that might do as a replacement, some style that might draw the eye differently or where the fabric disguises the way the garment doesn’t quite fit.

If there’s one thing this project has shown me, it’s that years of buying clothing off-the-rack has left me without a scale for proper fit, and that even making my own clothing, I’m often shooting in the dark. Left without a clear set of standards–where and how¬† to measure length, circumference, rise and inseam, even though I try to tailor my own garments, I end up with lopsided results.

Today, I wish I had my own in-house tailor, at $15 an item.

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!

I made another handbag.

25 Apr

This time, I made up the pattern myself.

I wanted to try something with a little more structure than the typical (and my last) floppy fabric bag.

I’ll tell you, though, this “designing” racket is nuts. I mean, if I say “It’s my own design”, what I really mean is “I sewed one part, and then I ripped it out, and then I resewed it, and then I changed my whole mind, cut it out all over again and differently, and then sewed it one more time just for good measure. And then STILL when I got to a step later on down the line, I had to undo part of what I did, and jerry-rig it some other way just to make it work.”

So my idea was that it can be carried on a long strap, folded over, like this, OR, if I have extra things to port about, I can clip the strap to the top, and carry it like more of a tote bag:

…and either way, I can remove the strap, and carry it as a clutch (folded over) or else by the handle. It’s versatile.

It was also kind of a nightmare to make, because it was my first time sewing with vinyl, my first time trying to make a fabric bag have stiffness and structure to it, and my first time working with real hardware.


But I think the black makes it nice and subtle, and the linen panels lighten it up (more than my corduroy bag that I made in winter), and the houndstooth…well, I just really like houndstooth check. (And yes, you may recognize that exact fabric from a shift dress. It’ll be fun, to wear the two items together, one day.)

And look! It has feet!