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.