My So Charmed Life
Sewing Hands are Happy Hands
Friends on Facebook know that I’ve been obsessively sewing again; this post gathers together images and ideas, a greatest hits of the allure of this activity for me.
1. Textiles. Probably the number one reason I sew is a deep, enduring love for textiles. My passion for fabric seems to know no bounds and each time I get back to sewing there is a literal world of discovery awaiting.
The love of textiles takes me adventuring to Africa, India, Japan, Europe (without leaving home)… crossing decades and centuries (without a time machine), exploring history, industry, technique (sans a classroom). Textiles invite anthropological inquiry and ultimately make me feel connected to societies I can never really know, particularly societies of women. And, thanks to the Worldwide Web, sewing takes to me to Mood, NYC. True, Tim Gunn isn’t around to soothe my nerves, and Swatch the dog is but an on-screen image. Still! Mood!
Above are textiles from Mood that I managed to match from online images only, remarkable, really. I’m having a huge 90’s grunge moment and the plaid is by Mr. Grunge himself, Marc Jacobs, a delightful, sheer voile fabric. The floral is fine silk and a complete bitch to sew. The lace is antique from a yardsale, as is the ribbon.
Front of this dress is shorter than the back.
Ties make it fit nicely for sizes 2–8.
The dress pictured center is made from the sheerest bone white cotton voile from India, block printed with a lovely pattern just begging to be a
sari babydoll dress. These textiles can be had for about $6-$12 a yard (and up), via a handful of dealers on both ebay and etsy. I have never been disappointed with this yardage, colors are bright, patterns run from traditional to sweetly off-kilter interpretations of Western themes. And how fun to receive packages from around the world!
2. Analog. To be fair, my sewing machine is a sophisticated computer…
CLICK IMAGE ABOVE TO PLAY VIDEO.
…but that isn’t at all what I love about it… and for the most part I ignore this aspect in favor of the older school functions that have been performed by machines since sometime in the 1700’s. The 10 second video above shows my machine in action, overcasting (which means I don’t need a serger) a length of delicious cherry silk polka dot fabric, also by Marc Jacobs. I love the visuals, I love the sound! And you can’t have enough ruffles, right?
3. Mad Skills. Sewing requires many skills that I do not currently have. I learn at least one or more new things with each project I undertake. As with other challenging activities, the knowledge is cumulative and improvement takes practice, over time. A few tips if you are, like me, an impatient novice:
• Make something simple that you will honestly love and that falls within the current limits of your ability. Then make it again in another fabric. And again, with a slight variation. Each time, push yourself just a little. You will end up with three cute garments that aren’t perfect but are perfectly wearable.
• The right tool for the job… i.e., know your needles, cutting implements (and keep them sharp), measuring tools, markers, etc. Build your tool library slowly on an as-needed basis… learning as you go. Have your machine serviced bi-annually once you really start using it.
• Watch YouTube videos! There is NOTHING you can’t learn on YouTube from sewing bias tape to working with bitchy silks. The sewing videos are often funny. You can pause, rewind, watch them dozens of times late into the night….
• Make mistakes, then fix them as best you can and MOVE ON. Nothing handmade is perfect. If it is, it’s boring.
4. Relationship to day job. Sewing is very different from graphic design; my day job. But there is a lot of overlap and I take advantage of this. There are applicable skills; color sense (and nonsense!), measuring, constructing, and the joy of ideas or concepts combined with the tedium of production.
It feels great to access 30 years of art and design experience in service of wearable creations, all while pushing myself to learn more. The piece above, a swingy tunic (or very short dress) was created from a pattern I made myself, copying a tee shirt from free people. The learning opportunities are endless with sewing.
5. Upcycling, and the romance of need. Sewing your own clothes is not a choice to make simply to save $$$. In today’s world of H&M &tc, fast fashion can be had for dirt cheap. If you purchase NEW yardage, there are bargains to be found… but there are many delicious fabrics you will lust after that are trés expensive. You’ll also need a lot of auxiliary supplies and will be running to fabric stores constantly for matching thread, picking up MORE yardage that you really don’t need… just ’cause it’s there.
And then, there are curtains. The two most influential films of my childhood, “The Sound of Music” and “Gone with the Wind” feature heroines rising to the occasion of style-over-means. Remember the VonTrapp children frolicking through those oh-so-alive hills in their shameful, adorable garments made from the Captain’s living room curtains?! And Scarlet, OH SCARLET! Who can forget her fabulously rich green velvet curtain ensemble???
When not busy searching out bargains on Mood.com, I’m combing my local thriftstore for textiles. Curtains, tablecloths, bedspreads and sheets… the most amazing vintage fabrics, at pennies-per-yard can be found on almost any trip. The bloomers above and below were made from curtain yardage, two panels at a total cost of $4.
The three fabrics came SEWN TOGETHER. All I had to do was cut. Oh, and I patterned these for a perfect fit by copying a pair of pajamas, also scored at the thrift.
The ruffle trim on this flirty dress was also once a curtain. Dotted swiss in a spicy mustard shade, probably circa 1970-something.
6. Collage of disparate elements. In all of my creative pursuits, from jewelry to sewing, I lean toward bringing together things that may not belong in the same project. Below, I trimmed a super soft ombre flannel dress with a length of handcrafted yo-yo trim made of 1930’s feedsack fabric. Feedsack is a collectibles world unto itself, but the yardage has become quite expensive… and is mostly available in smaller pieces (duh, feedsacks). This was a fun way to incorporate the wonderful patterns and textiles without spending a small fortune.
I’m currently obsessing over Japanese textiles and techniques. Below is a babydoll tunic that features very vintage Kimono silk as a ruffle, with the main fabric a “homespun” from JoAnn’s. If you go to JoAnn’s, ALWAYS print out the week’s 40% off coupon… it’s good on yardage! If you forget, email it to your phone from the Web when you get there.
Vintage Komono fabric, much like feedsack, is dear ($$$) and generally available only in smaller pieces b/c it is loomed in the right amount for making Kimono–no waste, making it perfect for trim. The colors and textures are gorgeous. I very boldly tea-stained the dress body after completing it as the stark white wasn’t working with the vintage fabric. Scary, but worked great.
I’m itching for a larger, more involved project after all of these simple dresses, and am about to embark on a piece that will use new and vintage indigo textiles and will incorporate Japanese Sashiko and the boro aesthetic.
Watch the flying fingers in this video as she creates rows of Sashiko hand-stitching. You’ll also see this technique in India, on Kantha quilts. The effect is lovely.
I may incorporate some of these quilt y0-yo’s made in the 1940’s from men’s necktie silk into this upcoming project.
And here are my first practice stitches, done on my old jeans in a doctor’s waiting room. The point is to make all the stitches uniform in size and spacing. But I have seen loads of ancient cloths where the stitches–made perhaps in haste to get a farmer back into the field–don’t look so far from my own wobbly and inaccurate attempts.
Stay tuned! xoxo
PS: Big thanks to Molly for showing me a) how to send a JoAnn’s coupon to my iphone and b) how to get a video off my iPad, into iMovie, and embedded in WordPress… with a thumbnail!