Monday, August 11, 2014

This Is a Persistent Worry

Double-checking for the 20th time to make sure I don't end up with two left sleeves.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What I'm Working On

I made the braided rag rug for our new apartment in Chicago (a year ago now!), from scraps I had lying around and some pieces of quilting cotton that I think came from a garage sale.  There are pieces of this dress, this apron, and the polka dot lining from this jacket that never was.  It's just a coiled braid, pottery style, with each coil stitched to the one before in a spiral and then the whole thing hand-sewn to a felt backing.  Not fancy but satisfying to make and a nice place to sit when I'm cutting out pattern pieces.

This shirt pattern is copied from a men's Gap shirt that I found in a thrift store and liked the fit of.  The original was short-sleeved and this white version has long sleeves, so I drafted a placket and cuff.  This will be my second time ever making a shirt-sleeve placket (I did a couple of practice runs yesterday before I cut everything out).  I've made quite a few short-sleeve men's shirts, though, so the whole collar-and-stand-and-yoke-and-flat-fell-seams thing is old hat by now.  The process is almost zen at this point--no fitting, no wrestling with fussy fabric, very little handwork, just long easy seams and crisp topstitching.  And I look sharp in them when they're finished.

For my fellow shirtmakers, here's a list of the resources I always turn to when I start a new project:
  • This sleeve placket tutorial from Off the Cuff, a custom shirtmaker's blog.  I love advice from the professionals--I would never have thought to finger press but it's easier and more effective than heat-pressing on tiny fiddly seams.
  • Four Square Walls' guide to sewing collar stands.  She offers it as an alternative to the standard method suggested on most sewing patterns; it's the only one I've ever tried, and it works for me.
  • Peter's Men's Shirt Sewalong on Male Pattern Boldness.  I usually end up reading this in full before I start a new shirt, as a refresher course and a guide to construction order.
  • And, if you can find it, the book Shirtmaking by David Page Coffin.  It's the definitive text for good reason.  

If you've missed me, you can see my Me-Made-May photos for this year at my Flickr page--mostly selfies in the full-length mirror in my department at work.  How has everyone been?  Happy sewing?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My wedding dress!

Hi sewing friends!

It's been a while since I posted here--our engagement has been long and difficult, and my life has kicked into high gear in the meantime.  I've been sewing, though, slowly but steadily, and cooking and baking and fermenting and homebrewing and all of the other things that keep me grounded in difficult times.  The first thing to go, though, is always sharing my projects in a public space like this one.

My wedding dress is by no means the only sewing project I completed in the last few months, but it was the most challenging and I think the most important.

In the planning phase, I was particularly drawn to Claire McCardell's dresses in silk jersey--I posted a few on my inspiration board.  I love the contrast between a structured midriff and a soft, drapey skirt and bodice, and McCardell's designs get it perfectly right.  This is my version--a pretty good try, anyway.  There will be no pictures of the inside because a rapidly approaching and non-negotiable deadline does not make for the cleanest interior finish.

I opted for floor length because I may never have another chance to wear a real, full-length formal gown.  I'm planning to hem it to ankle length later, and hopefully wear it again, if I'm ever invited to anything fancy enough.

The veil is just a yard of cotton/silk voile I had in my stash from last year, scalloped at the edges and pinned to my bun.  Here's a picture of it in action:

As for the event itself: it was lovely!  We got married in our backyard, with my parents as the officiants, and Dear Wife's mother read a passage from the Bible, which was very meaningful to both of us as she has had a difficult time coming to terms with our marriage.  I almost can't believe that all the people we love came together in one room to celebrate our (legally binding!) union.  I am a lucky, lucky woman.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thoughts on Things & Making

Update on the Seamless Pledge:

As predicted, it was not all that hard to stop myself buying new clothes.  In fact, I hardly noticed; I had to think really hard about my purchasing habits to remember whether I'd bought anything new or not.  As it turns out, I didn't buy any new clothes, mass-market or otherwise, until early June, when I got a couple of bras at JC Penney (using this excellent guide to tracking down 1940s-style bras, thanks Tasha!).  And that was it.  I haven't bought any clothes since.

I've sometimes considered doing the Fashion on the Ration challenge, like Susannah and Ali, and I may still, but I'm not sure the challenge format is really for me.  When I approach sewing (or any other "making" process) with rules or rigidity, the fun seems to go out of it.  I love to challenge my skills and my capabilities, but the broader picture--the relationship between consumption and production in my life--seems to have its own energy.  I feel as though I am watching something evolve very slowly and mysteriously, and without any particular direction from me.

A year ago, I wouldn't have anticipated my current relationship to clothes, food, personal belongings, and all the other "things" in my life.  Now, I find myself valuing more those things whose making I had a hand in, or whose maker I know.  I'd rather eat homemade mustard, local eggs and honey, rather drink homemade mead and shrub and currant wine.  I'd rather wear a skirt, a dress, a hat that I made.  Correspondingly, my day-to-day life is different now.  I grocery shop once a week because that's when the farmer's market is open, and I don't eat tomatoes in March or cabbage in July because they just aren't available (and if they are they're not very good).  There are some compromises--through April and most of May the "green vegetable" portion of our diet was filled almost entirely with spring varieties of garlic and onion--but even the compromises are liberating, because they remove choice.  When there is rhubarb to be bought, I buy rhubarb.  When there isn't, I don't.

The same is true of clothes.  My me-made wardrobe is small still (but growing--I counted it all out for an upcoming post on wardrobe planning, and was pleasantly surprised!), so when I get dressed in the morning I am often choosing between a couple of outfits, with minor variations--more if I've just done laundry.  I know my students got very tired of seeing this skirt, since I wore it at least twice a week--if not more often--from January into April.  But the thing is, I love it.  I made it out of fabric that makes me happy, in a style that flatters me and a cut that fits perfectly.  I wore it twice a week not out of artificial deprivation but because it's the best thing in my closet--just as spring garlic in April beats out California bell peppers or Mexican tomatoes any day.

There's nothing objective about any of this.  There's nothing special about cream from Ithaca or blueberries from Baldwinsville, except that they are my cream and my blueberries and so I love them dearly (especially in combination).  There are probably much nicer skirts out there, made from better materials with more sophisticated detailing, but I don't care because I want to wear the skirt that I made.  There is something intangible about it.  It has to do with quality of life, and it makes me wonder what we are all missing in our alienation from the fulfillment of our most basic concerns--what to eat, what to wear, what to sit on, where to live.  I'm not pretending that I can be fully self-sufficient--I wouldn't want to be.  But there's a qualitative difference in my relationship to the things I've made versus the things I've bought.  I never, ever let homemade jam grow mold in the back of the fridge.  When my clothes lose buttons or pop a seam or start to wear out at the knees, I fix them.  My investment in the things around me is heightened, because my labor is more valuable to me than money, and to treat my things lightly is to disrespect that labor.

For the historically minded among us: there are a number of excellent scholarly books that cover the changes in the home production economy post-Industrial Revolution, but my favorite sources are as always primary.  The English Housewife assumes that farm wives will malt their own grain, distill their own perfumes, and spin their own thread (but not weave their own cloth, which was outsourced to a weaver).  And I think I have a whole post in me about the changing definition of "economy" in home economics texts from the 1910s to the 1960s--many practices that are heartily recommended into the thirties and forties (like remaking a man's suit into a little boy's, or darning your stockings) are cheerfully denounced twenty years later as "false economies" that deflect the housewife's energies away from presumably more valuable consumption activities (like shopping for bargains).  I'm secretly compiling the syllabus and reading list for the class I will one day teach on this subject, called something like ""False Economy": Rhetorics of Home Production 1912-1965."  Would you enroll?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Blouses, Hats, & Weddings

As you may have noticed, things have been slow around here--I'm not the most regular blogger at the best of times, but wedding planning, work, and long unstructured days have been really getting to me lately.  It's not for lack of sewing, though!

The blouse that I talked about drafting last month came together quick and easy, and looks great:

It's wound up in at least one outfit a week and always gets compliments.  I'm particularly happy with how the sleeves turned out:

I widened them a bit so they could be comfortably rolled up.  The sleevecap pleat, though, was a happy accident: I was aiming for a regular pleat but got mixed up and made an inverted one instead:

I love the way it looks!  For a long time I thought I hated sleevecap ease--I kept picturing those weird pouffy leg-o'-mutton things from the thirties--but with a nice crisp pleat like this, it does really nice things for my shoulders.  At least that's what Dear Fiancee says.

Speaking of--we've set a date for our wedding, and it will be October 6!  Our wedding website is up at, so please visit and leave us a nice guestbook comment.  :)  There's a blog there as well, so as my wedding dress comes together (the next big project on my list...) I will likely be updating there as well.  I'm hoping that more blogs = more blogging.  I guess we'll see.

P.S. The last photo also documents my second shot at millinery (the first being here).  I may have mentioned before that my landlady used to work in theatre--she was the previous owner of my beloved dress form, Dottie--and she just happened to leave a wooden hat block in the house, conveniently sized to my measurements.  I used it to make up the pattern for this sun hat and it was a total breeze--just like draping on a dress form, but in miniature.  There was a refreshing lack of math (all too present in flat pattern designing).

Anyway, I'm pretty happy with it--though the next iteration will probably have wire in the brim for shape, and definitely ribbons to tie under my chin so the wind doesn't blow it away.  I'm not too proud to look like a doofus if it means my ears won't get sunburnt.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Forties Blouse, Take Two

It's nearly a year now since I started this blog, and a little longer since I started sewing in earnest (i.e. with the intent to make durable, street-wearable garments).  In even that short time, I've learned at least a couple of things, both technique and personal preference.  I can make a machine buttonhole, I can put in a lapped zipper, I can topstitch denim and flat fell a seam (sort of).  I no longer have to write out the order of operations for each garment before I start--my instincts are better, and I trust them more.  And now, when I set out to design a new garment, I rarely have to start from scratch; there's so much already in my collection to adapt.

Take this blouse:

It took a very long time, and countless re-reads of Peter's men's shirt sewalong posts, to get that pattern to work.  I was, and am, incredibly proud of it.  But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see all the things I could do better.  For one, I hate facings on button-up shirts--they're a pain in the ass to iron.  The collar is okay, but I've since realized that I much prefer more assertive collars, like this one:

I'm excited, too, to try some techniques I'm no longer afraid of, like flat-felling the sleeve and side seams.  Wish me luck everybody!

(Something else I've learned: I love to make sew-in interfacing out of contrasting quilting cotton.  I'm thinking of calling this the Secret Owl Blouse, for this reason:

Happy Monday everyone!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

DIY Roundup Part Two: Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Greetings friends!  I haven't been doing much sewing lately because my sewing room looks like this:

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