Head of Class

Readers,

When I learned that a show of Edith Head’s costumes was headed for the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in the little town of Lancaster, I jumped up and down and hollered “oh my gosh!” over the phone a couple dozen times.

Can I realize my ambition to look like Edith Head? We shall see.

Can I realize my ambition to look like Edith Head? We shall see.

The sister who called me with this news tidbit had figured I’d be interested in this exhibition but wasn’t prepared for such audible enthusiasm. That may be because I’d never told her I’d had ambitions to dress up as Edith Head’s double. Now I would get to see–for free!–a few dozen of the hundreds–no, probably thousands–of garments she’d had a hand in designing over her decades-long career in Hollywood.

What do I even know about Edith Head, and how did I come to know it?

The formidable, inimitable, inscrutable Edith Head.

The formidable, inimitable, inscrutable Edith Head.

Not a whole lot, and I don’t know.

Edith_Head_0758

I love this lettering, and how about that notation about Claudette Colbert?

I’m not alone in having strong and yet vague impressions of Edith Head, or at least of her unsmiling, enigmatic, no-nonsense persona, who started in the ’20s with  Clara Bow in the silents, moved on in the ’30s to ’60s designing for such stars as Mae West, Barbara Stanwyck, Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly, in the ’70s with Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting and ending in 1982 with Steve Martin in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.

Self-described "hider and hoarder," archivist Randall Thropp regaled his audience with one story after another about Edith Head, her costumes, and the people who wore them.

Self-described “hider and hoarder,” archivist Randall Thropp regaled his audience with one story after another about Edith Head, her costumes, and the people who wore them.

Randall Thropp, the costume, prop and set archivist at Paramount, who opened the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio’s show with a curator’s talk June 8, said that on the VIP tours of Paramount someone in the group inevitably asks about Edith Head. He also noted that a recent New York Times book review cited Ms. Head’s view that “You can do anything you want in life if you dress for it.”

Ginger Rogers playing an attorney in a early version of the "power suit."

Ginger Rogers playing an attorney in a early version of the “power suit.”

The suit in the exhibition.

The suit in the exhibition.

It took more than Ms. Head’s memorably severe coiffure, tinted glasses, and neat, classic clothes to earn 35 Oscar nominations and 8 wins, however. She also said “In any one building on New York’s Seventh Avenue, there are twenty designers better than I, but they wouldn’t last a day in Hollywood.”  Dressing for the part may get you noticed, but without grit you won’t be around long.Edith_Head_0914

Edith Head’s costumes would not be around long, either, had it not been for Randall Thropp’s self-described “hider and hoarder” tendencies. If you can believe it, until 2006 it was possible for the public to rent costumes from Paramount that included some by leading designers like Head. As Thropp discovered labels with Head’s name sewn  into waist or sleeve seams he took an executive decision to remove the garments from circulation. Then he sequestered the garments for a while till it was safe for them to come out again.Edith_Head_0853

Paramount had been known to turn historically significant props and costumes over to auction houses, dispersing a cultural legacy forever into the hands of private owners.  On his own initiative and in his own cunning way Thropp preserved the work not only of a designer who remains practically a household name but that of hundreds of seamstresses, tailors, jewelers, milliners, beaders and other practitioners of the costume arts.

While I am mesmerized by the tools of the trade, Randall Thropp chats with visitors.

While I am mesmerized by the tools of the trade, Randall Thropp chats with visitors.

When I saw the glass case my first thought was, “This reminds me of Wayward,” the vintage shop in St. Leonards on Sea, England I visited in January. The cones of colored thread, trims, packets of pins, Paramount labels, a hat stretcher, an Art Deco-era hosiery box with a beguiling typeface, and what appeared to be a specialized iron, were at one time the everyday supplies and tools of the costumer’s art.

I suppose that's a special kind of iron. Have you ever seen one like this?

I suppose that’s a special kind of iron. Have you ever seen one like this?

While I come to costume shows to see the costumes, obviously, it’s almost more poignant to see these mundane objects that have become equally rare and often obsolete.

Ever on the lookout for ideas for my own label, I was taken by Paramount's lettering for its label.

Ever on the lookout for ideas for my own label, I was taken by Paramount’s lettering for its label.

The yellowed typed index cards listing workers’ names, job titles, periods of employment, and wages are additional silent witnesses to the cast of thousands behind the scenes that produced the finery to dress the casts of thousands parading before the camera.

Just a few of the employee cards on display. If only they could talk!

Just a few of the employee cards on display. If only they could talk!

I look at the variety of names, job titles, promotions and handwritten notations aching to know the people and stories behind them. Were those living wages? Did they get lunch at an employee canteen at the studio as part of their compensation? I hope so.

Edith_Head_0904

Edith_Head_0900

Edith_Head_0905

As for the costumes: Okay, I admit I’d hoped to see Audrey Hepburn’s blouse and skirt from Roman Holiday. I suppose they’re jealously guarded by their owner, who must have paid a bundle for them, I don’t know.Edith_Head_0771

I pretend to be dazzled by sequin-encrusted gowns that weigh ten pounds, but I can’t imagine myself wearing them. Instead, I was predictably drawn to the Adrian-like suit from The Big Clock worn by Maureen O’Sullivan. The trompe l’oeil bow is a tailored little stroke of genius.

A clip from The Big Clock showing Maureen O'Sullivan in her suit with the fetching faux bow.

A clip from The Big Clock showing Maureen O’Sullivan in her suit with the fetching faux bow.

I wandered among the four rooms and the main floor marveling at the costumes’ technical mastery I could barely imagine, much less achieve. Add to that deadlines, budgets, and egos, and I wonder how costumes get made at all.

Sketches, some with swatches.

Sketches, some with swatches.

Edith Head most certainly did not fret as I do about getting things sewn. No, orchestrating the talents of hundreds of skilled workers over 60 years she got thousands of things sewn.Edith_Head_0821

Nevertheless, those efforts would fall to wrack and ruin without the talents of today’s curators, conservators, and exhibition specialists diligently, devotedly spending years to preserve records and create informative and entertaining exhibitions giving context for us visitors.

Thanks to Carol Abbott’s inventiveness, on an iPad placed in each room you can tap on the image of a costume and see a clip from the movie it was in. In a minute you get information, entertainment, and context in a format that couldn’t be more intuitive.

Adjunct professor Carol Abbott put together 35 clips from 31 films that show the costumes with just a tap on an iPad.

Adjunct professor Carol Abbott put together 35 clips from 31 films that show the costumes with just a tap on an iPad. Maureen O’Sullivan’s suit is visible at upper right.

And thanks to Randall Thropp, an elderly and ailing Shelley Winters got to see the costume (the one survivor of a set of four) that she wore in the rowboat scene in 1951′s A Place in the Sun. Clearly moved, she told him, “I can’t believe you saved my costume.”

Shelley Winters was grateful Randall Thropp rescued her costume, and so are we.

Shelley Winters was grateful Randall Thropp rescued her costume, and so are we.

If you’re in central Ohio sometime this summer, head over to the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio to catch this entrancing show.

Joan Fontaine on the cover of a fan magazine, with a swatch from her dress.

Joan Fontaine on the cover of a fan magazine, with a swatch from her dress.

If you’re there August 17, don’t be surprised to see me tailing actress Susan Claassen portraying Edith Head as she leads tours through the galleries. I could use some tips on how to get that hairstyle right.

Starstruck, or just dizzy? Who cares?

Starstruck, or just dizzy? Who cares?

(Photos by Cynthia DeGrand)

 

A Cottage for Sale

Readers,

Our real estate agent called this morning to let us know our house is going on the market this afternoon.

The cottage is for sale!

The cottage is for sale!

I haven’t peeked at the real estate website to see whether the listing is really up yet. It’s going to feel strange to see our house arranged by a stager, shot by a real estate photographer, and described by our real estate agent to ignite the imaginations of potential buyers.

This isn’t quite our home anymore. Now it’s a cottage for sale.

But that’s okay.

You know the song “A Cottage for Sale,” with those lyrics of heartbreaking wistfulness and regret?

The Cape Cod I lived in till age 4, before my family moved to Columbus.

I lived in this Cape Cod till age 4. From here I moved with my family to Columbus.

Months ago I listened to upwards of twenty renditions on YouTube, planning the post I knew I would write when we put our house on the market. Now I am writing that post and wanting badly to put Judy Garland’s amazing version in.

But readers, while I may feel some wistfulness–I will miss my hairdresser of twenty years desperately–regrets are nowhere to be found. Nope, just excitement and anticipation.

Thursday I fly to Columbus to start making our 1958 fixer-upper our new home. Meanwhile, Jack will stay in Minneapolis long enough to teach his summer classes–

And get this cottage sold.

 

Getting Things Sewn is Getting a New Home

Readers,

Last week Jack and I bought a house in Columbus, Ohio that will be the new home of Getting Things Sewn!

With Kelly Myers, the world's most wonderful real estate agent.

With Kelly Myers, the world’s most wonderful real estate agent.

Built in 1958, with the same owners from 1959 to 2013, the house is structurally sound but needs updating. Carpets need to be ripped out and floors assessed for refinishing, and all the walls need paint, just for starters. Everything needs refreshing.

Assisting me in this first round of improvements will be my sister, photographer–and neighbor–Cynthia DeGrand, who will be just two minutes’ walk away!

Our creative spaces being so close together–my sewing space and Cynthia’s photo studio–means wonderful new opportunities to experiment with the subject matter and images for this blog. I have often had ideas for posts but didn’t have the imagination or technical expertise to create the images. Meanwhile, Cynthia has had ideas for composition or modeling, but I was not in Columbus often enough for her to experiment with and perfect even a tenth of those ideas.

With the 764 miles between us reduced to a tenth of a mile, we can easily experiment with indoor shoots, location shoots, documenting sewing processes, and more.

This 13- by 17-foot bedroom enjoys natural light and more warmth than my basement sewing space. (The carpet and window treatments are going.)

This 13- by 17-foot bedroom enjoys natural light and more warmth than my basement sewing space. (The carpet and window treatments are going.)

I will also experiment with designing my new sewing space–or spaces. In Minneapolis I devised a pretty satisfying basement sewing domain, which I wrote about in 2013. In Columbus I will start over in a 13- by 17-foot bedroom, possibly using part of the sizable basement for cutting tables.

I have new local sewing resources to discover: people, classes, supplies, collections, and events, which is exciting, but I also want to keep in touch with the sewing community I cultivated in Minneapolis.

For the last few weeks I’ve been decluttering, packing, cleaning, and painting (lot of painting) in preparation for selling our Minneapolis house. While Jack manages the selling, I’ll fly ahead to Columbus to get some repairs and improvements underway. They will be so much easier to do before the moving van arrives.

I have been impatiently waiting for the day I could say Getting Things Sewn is getting a new home. At last I can. I will be testing everything I’ve learned so far about creating sewing spaces and cultivating new sewing ties and look forward to recording my new adventures.

Goodbye, old sewing space!

Goodbye, old sewing space!

 

 

 

Editing My Pattern Stash: How It Turned Out

Readers,

Some of the patterns from the 3-star pile.

Some of the patterns from the 3-star pile.

If you’re short on time (I know I am), I’ll get right to the point: editing my pattern stash turned out surprisingly well.

Move 'em on out: difficult side closure, too boxy, I'd never wear it. Brings the eye down, I have better choices, rounded shoulders, boxy and brings the eye down.

Move ‘em on out: difficult side closure, too boxy, I’d never wear it. Too much ease, I have better choices, rounded shoulders, boxy and brings the eye down.

As with editing my fabric and button stashes last year, editing my patterns was informative, fun, and productive. Even painless. What more could I ask?

Duplicates other patterns. ditto, too much design ease, not my style.

Duplicates other patterns. ditto, too much design ease, not my style.

The trick in editing my stashes, I’ve found, is designing a process that’s intuitive and easy (are those the same thing?) and that helps me do something better than  before.

Great uses for my vintage buttons, but I would probably not wear either.

Great uses for my vintage buttons, but I would probably not wear either.

The process has to be intuitive, so I understand it; easy, so I actually do it; and helps me accomplish something that matters, so that it’s worth the trouble–worth the trouble of executing the process, but also designing it, which has been the real bugbear.

Bolero overload. Sweetheart necklines: no!

Bolero overload. Sweetheart necklines: no!

But on to the results.

Using the rating system I devised, I assigned one to five stars to each of 200 patterns.

Sloping shoulders, no waist definition.

Sloping shoulders, no waist definition.

Basically,

  • 5 stars: I’ve made these and they were successful. Keep.

    Duplicate, better choices, not my style.

    Duplicate, better choices, not my style.

  • 4 stars: I haven’t made these, but they’re flattering and I love them. I can definitely imagine making them. They would work in my wardrobe. Keep.

    I have better choices, looks like a home ec project, ditto

    I have better choices, looks like a home ec project, ditto

  • 3 stars: I haven’t made these. I’m ambivalent about something here: some features are flattering and some aren’t; the style might work or it might not. These would probably never be tops on the sewing to-do list.  Are these worth keeping? Look at these again and decide.

    Elegant, but lots of other patterns are better wardrobe matches.

    Elegant, but lots of other patterns are better wardrobe matches.

  • 2 stars: I haven’t made these. Something is a dealbreaker: the style no longer suits me, or I now know that’s not a flattering silhouette, or this duplicates other patterns. Out they go.

    Sloping shoulders, dropped shoulders, bolero overload

    Sloping shoulders, dropped shoulders, bolero overload

  • 1 star: I have made these. Face it: they’re duds. Maybe they’re fixable, but I will never make it top priority to fix them. I’d rather choose a different pattern. Bye-bye.

    I wouldn't wear it much, zipper closure, not sure I'd wear it.

    I wouldn’t wear it much, zipper closure, not sure I’d wear it.

The 3-star pile was the most interesting and instructive. Seeing all the 3-starred ones together, I could see similarities in design features that just didn’t work for a triangle figure like mine:

  • Insufficient shoulder definition: dropped shoulders, kimono sleeves, raglan sleeves
  • Little or no waist definition
  • Features that drew the eye down or just didn’t draw the eye up
  • Too much design ease

    Scoop neckline--no; I'd never get around to sewing this; boxy

    Scoop neckline–no; I’d never get around to sewing this; boxy

I saw styles I wouldn’t wear now; I wasn’t that person anymore, if ever I had been.

Sloping shoulders; wrapround dress insecurity; what--MORE boleros?

Sloping shoulders; wrapround dress insecurity; what–MORE boleros?

Some patterns looked costumey to me now.

I have another shawl collar dress that's better; wouldn't wear it; boxy, sloping shoulders and boxy; sloping shoulders

I have another shawl collar dress that’s better; wouldn’t wear it; boxy, sloping shoulders and boxy; sloping shoulders

Whenever I found myself saying “There are better choices,” I paid attention.

Given how many 4-star patterns I have sitting on the bench begging to be put into the game, when would I ever sew the 3-stars? Like that famous New Yorker cartoon, how about never?

After the edit I arranged my pattern catalogue differently. That was not part of the original plan.

After the edit I arranged my pattern catalogue differently. That was not part of the original plan.

Because I understood why I was keeping what I was keeping and weeding what I was weeding, I had no second thoughts and no regrets.

I hadn’t set out to weed out a certain number. It came to about 60, or about 30 percent, just using this star rating process.

When I looked at the keepers, their winning qualities stood out all the more for not being lumped together with the ones that were only pretty good. For me, that’s the ultimate value of an edit: to clarify what interests and inspires me the most, and identify the resources–the fabrics, buttons, and patterns–that are the best matches.

Arranged by garment category now, not by year, the way I arrange my wardrobe.

Arranged by garment category now, not by year, the way I arrange my wardrobe.

There was another unexpected result from this edit: I changed how I arrange my pattern catalogue.

Years ago, to sidestep the problem of choosing one category for a multi-garment pattern, I arranged patterns by year.  But I realized recently that arranging my patterns by year emphasizes the historical period of the garments, which doesn’t help me plan a wardrobe.

Sometimes I attach swatches to the page.

Sometimes I attach swatches to the page.

When I want a coat, I should be flipping to the coat section of my catalogue and examining all my coat choices regardless of the era.

In a couple of instances, it turned out, did I want to put a pattern into a couple of garment categories: both “Jackets” and “Tops,” for example.  In those cases I can just make an duplicate page.

Tracing the outlines of the garment helps me see it better.

Tracing the outlines of the garment helps me see it better.

What I had feared–that my catalogue would be the size of an unabridged Webster’s dictionary–has not materialized.

Abridged, then?

Perhaps.

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

From the Fabric and Button Stashes: New Pairings

Readers,

What would bring out the best qualities in my latest finds?

What would bring out the best qualities in my latest finds?

Among the ridiculously wonderful simple pleasures in my life as a sewer is seeing how my latest acquisitions go together with what’s in my stashes.

These buttons, from a Spitalfields vintage fair in London, work nicely with this Italian linen-rayon.

These buttons, from a Spitalfields vintage fair in London, work nicely with this Italian linen-rayon.

This is often how my projects now start out. I may see a winning combination of a pattern and a fabric. Later (as in minutes, hours, or years) I may see a richer relationship with additional fabrics or with buttons that seem to have been made for each other.

Another option.

Another option.

Many times I’ve had a fabric in my stash that appealed to me and yet didn’t have the right complements to bring out its best qualities, so it remained unsewn. I’ve wondered whether I made a mistake keeping that fabric.

But then, how about these?

But then, how about these?

Then at sales in Minneapolis, like the Textile Center sale, or the Guthrie Theater costume department sale last fall, or at vintage fashion fairs I’ve attended in London, I may discover offbeat finds that partner beautifully with that “orphan” piece. I discover new (to me) relationships of color and texture.

I cut a slit just large enough to be a pretend buttonhole for a closer look.

I cut a slit just large enough to be a pretend buttonhole for a closer look.

Working out these design puzzles is very absorbing. I only wish I were much, much better at it.

This pair says "Summer suit!"  Do I have just the right three-button jacket pattern?

This pairing says “Summer suit!” Do I have just the right three-button jacket pattern?

When I got back from The World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale just over a week ago, I spread out my fabric purchases and started pulling buttons to try with them.

For comparison, another choice.

For comparison, another choice.

Here are some possibilities. Several look very promising.

How would this chunky button look with this chunky tweed?

How would this chunky button look with this chunky tweed?

Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe, maybe not. Not a first choice.

How about this?

How about this?

Closer, I think.

Closer, I think.

Another try.

Another try.

A contender.

A contender.

Just for fun. There are blue flecks in the tweed. Would these blue buttons work, or are they too much?

Just for fun. There are blue flecks in the tweed. Would these blue buttons work, or are they too much? They deserve to be out in the world, not on a card forever.

There are better choices for this button.

There are better choices for this button.

A possibility.

A possibility.

I so want to put this mid-'40s buckle on something. But is this linen the right home?

I so want to put this mid-’40s buckle on something. But is this linen the right home?

Can't wait to find these buttons their perfect little piece of real estate. What could it be?

Can’t wait to find these buttons their perfect little piece of real estate. What could it be?

Black rounds edged in white, in two sizes. Big ones for the front closure, smaller for pocket trim?

Black rounds edged in white, in two sizes. Big ones for the front closure, smaller for pocket trim?

Monochromatic choices.

Monochromatic choices.

These translucent buttons seem right for this lighter-weight linen.

These translucent buttons seem right for this lighter-weight linen.

This orange button and its eight mates have been languishing on the wrong-color fabric for years. This is a much better combo.

This orange button and its eight mates have been languishing on the wrong-color fabric for years. This is a much better combo.

From the World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale

Readers, Yesterday I attended my favorite event of any kind in the whole year: a gigantic rummage sale to raise funds for the Textile Center in Minneapolis.IMG_5776 (460x266) I considered not going this year, since we’re moving and the last thing you’d think we’d want is more boxes to pack. But do you think I listened to reason? No!IMG_5777 (460x279) Not when I could be among hundreds of my fellow fiber lovers. Not when I could rifle through tables piled high with choice discards from other sewers’ stashes and find amazing remnants for bargain prices. Not when I had vintage buttons back home needing fabrics to be paired with.

In the last minutes before the sale opened, buyers limbered up for the race to the tables.

In the last minutes before the sale opened, buyers limbered up for the race to the tables.

No, I was destined to go to the World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale.

Carts at the ready for customers like me buying in bulk. Volunteers stationed at checkout, next to the loading docks.

Carts at the ready for customers like me buying in bulk. Volunteers stationed at checkout, next to the loading docks.

Fittingly, the sale was held at the ideal place for recycling and DIY types: the University of Minnesota’s ReUse Program warehouse. Waiting for the sale to start, we early birds were encouraged to pull out old office chairs ($10 apiece) and sit, not stand, in line. How nice is that? I did have to balance myself gingerly on my rickety chair, but that would be just another colorful addition to my Textile Garage Sale story for 2014.

Beyond the couches were tables of silent auction items like sewing machines and pressing equipment.

Beyond the couches were tables of silent auction items like sewing machines and pressing equipment.

The rest of the year I may swatch one fabric and take weeks deliberating over a possible purchase.  But at the World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale, hesitate and ye are lost. I strode toward the wool and linen fabric sections with a glint in my eye, prepared to make dozens of split-second decisions.

I did!

I did!

This year I made good use of the stash “parking lot,” claiming a large box early, which I then filled without difficulty.

This was only the beginning.

This was only the beginning.

As usually happens, I ran into Steve Pauling, the Bobbin Doctor, in the machines section, where I admired a space-age looking Singer sewing machine and a mangle that had seen better days, both in the silent auction. Steve said he’d been too busy to go see what Ginny herself, of the fabulous Ginny’s Fine Fabrics in Rochester, Minnesota, had donated.

Thousands of patterns, sewing books and magazines donated for the Textile Center sale.

Thousands of patterns, sewing books and magazines donated for the Textile Center sale.

Oh my gosh. I had visited the legendary Ginny’s for the first time last summer when I was researching “Sewing Destination: Twin Cities” for Threads magazine. I’ve been to some of the best fabric stores anywhere–in San Francisco, New York, and London–and Ginny’s easily ranks with them for quality, variety–and price. The stuff that dreams are made of doesn’t come cheap, nor should it.

Having carts made it all the more tempting to buy more.

Having carts made it all the more tempting to buy more.

I had already stowed several fabrics on their original cardboard cores in my stash box. Were they Ginny’s fabrics? Yes, they were! In fact, one of them looked familiar, and I realized I had admired that Italian linen-rayon blend in Ginny’s bargain room in the back of the store last summer.

With my catches of the day.

With my catches of the day.

What other Ginny’s treasures could I uncover? I then investigated nearly every fabric I could find wrapped around a cardboard core on the chance that it was from Ginny’s and at a price I would likely never see again.

Pure linen with a beautiful weight and drape for a suit.

Pure linen with a beautiful weight and drape for a suit.

Eight of my nine fabric purchases ended up being from Ginny’s Fine Fabrics: pure linen, pure cotton, linen-rayon and linen-cotton blends, all about 80 percent off retail prices. I also found a wool tweed that had the look of the 1940s or ’50s in its coloring, a very good backdrop, I hoped, for some of my vintage buttons.

This tweed has a vintage look that should be great with some of my buttons from the '30s, '40s and '50s.

This tweed has a vintage look that should be great with some of my buttons from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

In the magazine aisle I found 19 of the 20 issues of Threads magazine I needed to complete my collection, for all of $2.00.

This linen cries out to be made into a shirt for summer.

This linen cries out to be made into a shirt for summer.

Having made the rounds of the fabric tables about six times, I began to slow down. The patterns, sewing books, notions, ethnic and vintage textiles, UFOs (really!) and machines didn’t interest me this year. Well, the mangle did intrigue me.

An Italian linen-rayon blend.

An Italian linen-rayon blend. 12 yards!

But reason returned. After two intense hours, it was time to call it a day.

Luckily, I was able to wheel my purchases to checkout on one of the ReUse warehouse’s carts, and had help loading the car. Thanks, Textile Center volunteers!

More Italian linen-rayon, in greenish blue for summer.

More Italian linen-rayon, in greenish blue for summer.

Back home, I swatched all my new acquisitions, measured the yardage–as little as 3 yards and as much as 12–and started pulling buttons for possible matches to inspire new projects.

9 1/2 yards of linen for summer blouses and a dress.

9 1/2 yards of linen for summer blouses and a dress.

The next round of fun was about to begin.

The newest members of the stash.

The newest members of the stash.

Editing My Pattern Stash

Readers,

I think I’ve come up with a pretty good way to edit my pattern stash.

Is this too many coat patterns?

Is this too many coat patterns?

Although I’m writing this on the road from Ohio, where Jack’s and my househunting adventure is taking exciting new turns, my mind has not strayed far from life’s really important questions:

  • Do I have too many patterns?
  • What’s the right number, anyway?
  • Will I ever know how (or care) to make my own t-shirts?

    This belted topper pattern from 1950 is a keeper.

    This belted topper pattern from 1950 is a keeper. 5 stars.

I know these questions have been plaguing you, too, readers. That’s why I have been spending all my waking hours this week–the ones not on the phone with our real estate agent–pondering a process for evaluating pattern stashes.

What I made from the topper pattern exceeded my expectations. I love when that happens.

What I made from the topper pattern exceeded my expectations. I love when that happens.

I’ll spare you the details of those first 30 hours of pondering and first two drafts of this post, and cut to the chase: I now have a working model for sorting patterns.

Another great in my pattern pantheon.

Another great in my pattern pantheon. 5 stars.

When I get back to the sewing domain in Minneapolis in a few days, this is what I’ll do:

1. Bring together all my patterns. I have about 200.

One of my favorite sewing projects ever.

One of my favorite sewing projects ever.

2. Sort them into categories such as:

  • Coats
  • Jackets and suits
  • Blouses, shirts, tops
  • Vests
  • Skirts
  • Pants
  • Accessories
  • At-home wear (robes, pajamas, exercise clothes, aprons)
  • Menswear
  • Home decor

    From 1936, another favorite pattern.

    From 1936, another favorite pattern. 5 stars.

Patterns will be judged and compared within their category.

3. Make space for five piles.

4. Patterns will be rated from one to five stars.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

5. Each star rating has objective and subjective statements related to it.  Assign each pattern to the pile with the statements that make the best match:

5 stars

  • I have made this.
  • I love it.
  • I would make it again.
  • Even if I don’t make it again, it’s worth keeping this pattern.
  • This flatters my figure type.
  • This works well with my other wardrobe items.
  • If this is a new direction for my wardrobe, it’s worth building outfits around this.
  • This works well with the life I’m living or am looking ahead to living.

    I can see this in my mind's eye with fabric and buttons from my stashes. 4 stars.

    I can see this in my mind’s eye with fabric and buttons from my stashes. 4 stars.

4 stars

  • I have not made this.
  • This flatters my figure type. (For me, a triangle figure type, that would include emphasizing the upper body with a defined waist and shoulders.)
  • I love this pattern.
  • This would work well with my other wardrobe items.
  • I can vividly imagine fabrics or buttons I’d use. (Even better: I have the fabrics and buttons.)
  • I can vividly imagine where or when I’d wear this.
  • I can vividly imagine what I would wear with this.
  • I can imagine loving wearing this.
  • If I had to learn new skills or get help to make this, I would.

    Some of my vintage buttons are waiting for their star turn on this coat. 4 stars.

    Some of my vintage buttons are waiting for their star turn on this coat. 4 stars.

3 stars

  • I have not made this.
  • I like this pattern, but I can’t say I love it.
  • This has elements that flatter my figure type.
  • This also has elements that do nothing to flatter my figure type–they’re either neutral or detract.
  • Something appeals to me about the style.
  • I might be able to make this work.
  • I have never vividly imagined the fabrics or buttons I’d use.
  • I have never vividly imagined where or when I’d wear this.
  • I have never vividly imagined what I would wear with this.
  • If I had to make multiple muslins or learn new skills to make this, I would choose a different pattern.
  • If I were in the mood to experiment, or had the right help, and the time, I would make this.

    From 1947. I like this.  Would it be too boxy on me? Shall I try it? 3 stars.

    From 1947. I like this. Would it be too boxy on me? Shall I try it? 3 stars.

Two stars

  • I have not made this.
  • Even if this is right for my figure type, it’s not to my taste anymore.
  • This doesn’t match my life now or how I expect to live in the future.
  • I am not willing to experiment with this pattern. I would choose a different pattern instead.
  • I like it well enough, but have never vividly imagined anything about it, I realize.
  • This is a perfectly good pattern, but it duplicates others I have.
  • If I let this go, I wouldn’t really miss it.

    I bought this for the lapels, but I'd have to take so much design ease out, I might as well choose another pattern. 2 stars.

    I bought this for the lapels, but I’d have to take so much design ease out, I might as well choose another pattern. 2 stars.

One star

  • I have made this.
  • This is a dud. It doesn’t work for me in fit or style.
  • If I made it in a different fabric or color it would still be a dud.
  • It is not worth it to me to fix the problems with this pattern. I’d rather choose a different pattern.

    On the 5 foot 10 inch tall model, this anorak looked great.

    On the 5 foot 10 inch tall model, this anorak looked great.

The 5-star patterns are keepers.

The 2- and 1-star patterns can be let go.

On me, not so much. 1 star.

On me, not so much. 1 star.

Then I’ll look at the 3-star and 4-star piles again. What can I learn from those piles? What makes one pattern a winner in my mind and another an also-ran? How much am I swayed by the front-of-the-envelope illustration? Is the technical drawing on the back just as appealing, more appealing, or less? In my experience, some patterns have fallen short of the promise on the front of the envelope–but others have exceeded it.

I had such high hopes for this 1934 pattern.

I had such high hopes for this 1934 pattern.

I may notice more patterns that are similar enough to consider duplicates, and choose to edit a few more out.

I won’t limit the number of patterns I can own in each category. However, I do have limits of time, money, and attention. I’m likely to accomplish more by perfecting a smaller number of patterns that I love, especially ones that adapt more easily to different seasons or occasions.

Do you think cutting about 8 inches off the length changed the proportions?  Am I willing to try making this pattern a great one for me? 2 stars, or 3?

Do you think cutting about 8 inches off the length changed the proportions? Am I willing to try making this pattern a great one for me? 2 stars, or 3?

As I work through this process, I may notice different questions and statements occurring to me, as in the menswear, accessory and home decor categories. “Make, or buy?” for instance. How willing am I to perfect a hat pattern? In the past, not very.

In the future? Put that question in the 3-star pile. I’ll deal with it later.

Interesting belt choices, pockets, and the chance to use beautiful buttons put this pattern into the 4-star pile.

Interesting belt choices, pockets, and the chance to use beautiful buttons put this pattern into the 4-star pile.

New! Improved! The UFO Makeover

Readers,

A tear-stained letter poured into Getting Things Sewn headquarters recently:

Dear Miss GTS,

The pace of my househunting has really picked up lately. I’ve been flying to Columbus and back so often, the flight attendants don’t ask me anymore whether I want the peanuts, the pretzels, or the cookies! That’s the good news.

Miss GTS says "An UnFinished Object doesn't have to be an UnFun Object!"

Miss GTS says “An UnFinished Object doesn’t have to be an UnFun Object!”

The bad news is the time has come to get cracking getting our house ready to sell. You know what that means: weeks of packing, cleaning, painting, and making everything pretty for prospective buyers. It also means not sewing.

You know that jacket I was working on, that I thought I’d finish this weekend? Ha! I’m stuck. I can’t do any more on it till Edith bails me out. Again.

I’m running out of time, Miss GTS. It looks like I’ve got to set this jacket project aside. You may be thinking. “Just go back to it when you’re ready. What’s the problem?”

The problem is when I put this project away it will become a UFO. I hate UFOs! I can feel them silently mocking me for my slowness and inefficiency.

It is so hard to build up the momentum to get my things sewn that when I have to stop, it’s like certain death for my project. And this project has such promise!

Miss GTS, how can I avoid consigning my jacket project to the world’s growing pile of UFOs?

Signed,

Miserable in Minneapolis

Dear Miserable,

Miss GTS sees three strategies in getting your jacket done:

  • the bribe
  • the threat
  • using an expert

In her experience, despite its popularity, the bribe is the least likely to succeed. She’s read countless times in women’s magazines to reward yourself with chocolate, a manicure, or a bubble bath if you get some loathsome task done. Please. This shows a sad lack of ambition and imagination.

Also, it doesn’t work, at least not for Miss GTS, whose taste in bribes, which she prefers to call incentives, runs more to diamond bracelets. (In fact, after she answers your letter she is rewarding herself with two diamond bracelets.)

The threat is much more effective. Think of something you would want to do even less than tackle your loathsome task. Now, doesn’t the loathsome task look so much better?

If you’re having trouble thinking up something threatening enough, do what Miss GTS does: take three things you dislike and find the overlap.

For example, Miss GTS despises

  • surprises
  • singing telegrams, and
  • clowns

A perfect threat for her would be a surprise singing telegram from a clown.  (In fact, if Miss GTS does not answer your letter by 4:00 today, JoJo the Singing Clown is going to surprise her with a singing telegram sometime in the next week.)

Go ahead, Miserable, try it. Find the overlap of three things you dislike intensely, and threaten yourself with it. See if your productivity doesn’t pick up! Feel free to borrow Miss GTS’s threat to try out– giving her the proper credit and link to her blog, of course.

Now, the last and most effective strategy is using an expert. The trick is finding that special person who has exactly the knowledge you need to help you get your project done.

In Miss GTS’s experience, finding a husband is usually easier than finding the right expert.

However, Miserable, you’re in luck. Because in this case, the expert is–you. You, even more than your sewing teacher, are an expert in this project.

The jacket: Vogue 4036, from 1959.

The jacket: Vogue 4036, from 1959.

You know

  • what you’ve done so far
  • what’s left to do
  • what you feel competent doing, like the bound buttonholes and the pocket
  • what you feel uncertain doing, like checking the sleeve fit and ease  in that muslin one more time, or drafting the lining

Have your questions for Edith’s visit, and make sure you understand all her answers. Take notes in  OneNote and use the OneNote recording feature, too.

After Edith leaves, you’re going to sit down and write your future self–the one who will be finishing this jacket in your new sewing space–a letter.

The letter will tell your future self how to finish this UFO. Think of this UFO as a kit that will become a smart little jacket from a 1959 Vogue pattern. This will be the best kit you’ve ever received, let alone completed.

Read the pattern sheet. As you review each part of the construction and write that part of the letter to yourself, put the pattern pieces, fabric, thread, and other supplies into a box, ready to be unpacked and assembled like a piece of Ikea furniture. (Only better–because your instructions will be better.)

And while you’re at it, list those books, magazine articles, and notes that are going to help you through the buttonhole, lining, and other stages.

When you finish the letter, sign it, “Your friend.”  Put it on top of the supplies in the box. Close the box.

Now go pack, clean and paint. Sell the house, move out, move into your new house, and set up your new sewing space.

Open up your kit for the jacket, and follow the instructions your friend–your earlier self–wrote to you. And if you never open that box, the kit will be ready for someone else to take up and complete.

But Miss GTS is betting that making your UFO into a kit is going to help you finish this project. Besides, don’t you want to see that jacket you’ve been dreaming about?

Sincerely,

Miss GTS

p.s. By the way, Miss GTS has given JoJo the Singing Clown your address. Just in case.

Field Trip: American Craft Council Library, American Fabrics

Readers,

Last summer I discovered the most wonderful old trade journal, and I’ve been wanting to go back and look at it ever since. It’s called American Fabrics. Have you heard of it?

An advertisement from a woolens manufacturer--with real swatches.

An advertisement from a woolens manufacturer–with real swatches.

Well, I hadn’t till I was doing research last year for “Sewing Destination: Twin Cities,” which came out in the February-March 2014 issue of Threads magazine. That article was a roundup of places and events in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota of interest to lovers of sewing and fashion.

Detail of an advertisement for Sunbak: rayon satin backed with wool.

Detail of an advertisement for Sunbak: rayon satin backed with wool.

I had put the American Craft Council library on my list of places to check out because, having been a librarian myself for 22 years, I knew there had to be wonderful resources begging to be better known and used–things that may never, ever get digitized–that sewers and fashion lovers would be thrilled to learn about.

After the movie star glamour of the satin robe...

After the movie star glamour of the satin robe…

When librarian Jessica Shaykett showed me the complete set of American Fabrics (later titled American Fabrics and Fashions), published from 1947 to 1986, I knew my search was over. I was so glad Threads let me include this fascinating time capsule in my article.

...is a style that's as sleek and modern as anything you'll see today.

…is a style that’s as sleek and modern as anything you’ll see today. (Note the fabric swatch at the top.)

Earlier this week I finally made my return visit to this library, which is open to the public, to browse the bound volumes and give readers a taste of American Fabrics that the article’s limited space prevented me from providing.

Penny and Loretta, office dogs and unofficial mascots of the American Craft Council, greeted me.

Penny and Loretta, office dogs and unofficial mascots of the American Craft Council, greeted me.

I naively thought I could look through the set in one morning, take representative photos, and be on my way by lunch. Ha! In an hour and a half I’d gotten through only the first three issues, published quarterly starting in 1946.

I love the graphics of these garment labels. A fabric mill is boasting of the many garment lines using its products.

I love the graphics of these garment labels. A fabric mill is boasting of the many garment lines using its products.

The trade journal continued to 1986 (changing its name along the way to American Fabrics and Fashions), so I have a long way to go.  Judging from issue numbers 1, 2, and 3, that’s good news.

Detail. The wonderful design that used to go into labels!

Detail. The wonderful design that used to go into labels!

Paging through American Fabrics, Number 1 (from which all of these illustrations were taken), I couldn’t help wondering about the state of the textile industry in the U.S. following World War II and what happened to it.

The hope and optimism of postwar America.

The hope and optimism of postwar America.

For a moment I was both tantalized and daunted by the prospect of learning about the history of the US and world post-war economy and globalization in the context of the textile industry…or was it the textile industry in the context of the US and world economic…whatever…American Fabrics, issue 1, Fall 1946

And then I came to my senses.American Fabrics, issue 1, Fall 1946.

I just wanted to page through American Fabrics Number 1 and let the images and words speak for themselves.

When did poodles become fashionable? What is going through that boxer's mind?

When did poodles become fashionable? And what is going through that boxer’s mind?

I wanted to notice word choice and writing styles.

This informative column could be deadly dull...

This informative column could have been deadly dull…

...but it had me at "lamb-chop."

…but it had me at “lamb-chop.”

Detail of contents, American Fabrics, issue 1, Fall, 1946

This table of contents sounds downright literary.

I wanted to notice snapshots in time…IMG_5443 (345x460)

IMG_5436 (460x231)

IMG_5437 (460x345)

…and be surprised by something being around longer than I had realized.

And I thought the word "imagineer" was a recent invention.

And I thought the word “imagineer” was a recent invention.

I wanted to look at graphic styles, too.

Tools of fabric design and production, beautifully rendered

Tools of fabric design and production, beautifully rendered

The lettering!

The lettering!

And of course, I wanted to look at the fashions.

A big, boxy coat of the late '40s.

A big, boxy coat of the late ’40s.

IMG_5430 (460x345)

Yes, those are pineapples on his swimming trunks.

After this first taste of American Fabrics, I’m hooked. My ambition is to page through every volume and fill up my sensory banks with words and graphics, year by year, fabric swatch by fabric swatch. Along the way, who knows what I’ll soak up?

Just you wait and see, lamb-chop.

Loretta says "Thanks for stopping by--come back soon!"

Loretta says “Thanks for stopping by–come back soon!”

(Note: Complete and broken sets of American Fabrics are available in hundreds of libraries in addition to the American Craft Council library in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ask your librarian to help you find them.

(Thanks to humans Jessica Shaykett and Alanna Nissen and corgis Penny and Loretta of the American Craft Council for their help and encouragement.)

Project: Vogue 4036 Jacket, (1959), Part 4

Readers,

I made another sample for this jacket, Vogue 4036, from 1959: the pocket and flap.IMG_5195 (345x460)I’m so used to misunderstanding instructions, making goofs, and starting over that I was surprised–shocked!–that the pocket and flap turned out so nicely on the first try.

Here are the printed instructions:IMG_5321 (460x226)

IMG_5323 (460x345)

IMG_5324 (460x149)

And here’s what I did:

Here's the part of the jacket front showing the dart, pocket, and flap placement.

Here’s the part of the jacket front showing the dart, pocket, and flap placement.

I didn't cut a whole jacket front--only a part. I underlined with a crisp cotton to give this loosely woven fabric body and stability.

I didn’t cut a whole jacket front–only a part. I underlined with a crisp cotton to give this loosely woven fabric body and stability.

The pocket piece.

The pocket piece.

Detail: the stitching and fold lines of the pocket.

Detail: the stitching and fold lines of the pocket.

The pocket, with the lines marked on both sides with some wonderful old tracing carbon found at an estate sale.

The pocket, with the lines marked on both sides with some wonderful old tracing carbon found at an estate sale.

The pocket is pinned to the front, aligning the stitching box with the one I traced onto the front.

The pocket is pinned to the front, aligning the stitching box with the one I traced onto the front.

This is what I mean: the pocket's stitching box is lined up with the one I drew on the front. This plain white underlining shows markings beautifully!

This is what I mean: the pocket’s stitching box is lined up with the one I drew on the front. This plain white underlining shows markings beautifully.

The stitching box, stitched.

The stitching box, stitched.

Hmmm...why didn't my boxes line up better? Well, no harm done.

Hmmm…why didn’t my boxes line up better? Well, no harm done.

Slash through all layers, making triangular ends.

Slash through all layers, making triangular ends.

Pull the pocket through the opening to the back. I assumed I should press the opening like a bound buttonhole, but no. Also, the markings faded when I pressed them. Re-marking the lines with chalk was not successful. But--no matter.

Pull the pocket through the opening to the back. I assumed I should press the opening like a bound buttonhole, but no. Also, the markings faded when I pressed them. Re-marking the lines with chalk was not successful. But–no matter.

The long cut edges are pressed toward the cut, not away, in preparation for the next step.

The long cut edges are pressed toward the cut, not away, in preparation for the next step.

The pocket is folded on the fold line, and the stitching line is supposed to line right on top of the previous stitching--the lower line of the box.

The pocket is folded on the fold line, and the stitching line is supposed to line right on top of the previous stitching–the lower line of the box.

The view from the right side.

The view from the right side.

The line is stitched now.

The line is stitched now.

I used contrast thread for this sample. My stitching should not be visible in any case. Now I think I could have stitched in the ditch and avoided this unsightliness. (And that's what I can learn from making samples!)

I used contrast thread for this sample. My stitching should not be visible in any case. Now I think I could have stitched in the ditch and avoided this unsightliness. (And that’s what I can learn from making samples!)

Catch the triangular ends into the stitching of the pocket.

Catch the triangular ends into the stitching of the pocket.

Done. (My stitching is not always so wobbly. I'm blaming the slippery lining.)

Done. (My stitching is not always so wobbly. I’m blaming the slippery lining.)

Warning: this pocket is small!

Warning: this pocket is small!

On to the flap:

The flap pattern piece, folded to its finished dimensions. Is it too big, or is it in keeping with the generous-sized collar?

The flap pattern piece, folded to its finished dimensions. Is it too big, or is it in keeping with the generous-sized collar?

Using part of an old file folder, I cut out a window to the dimensions of the finished flap. I marked vertical and horizontal center lines. Then I previewed various plaid layouts.

Using part of an old file folder, I cut out a window to the dimensions of the finished flap. I marked vertical and horizontal center lines. Then I previewed various plaid layouts.

Another layout choice.

Another layout choice.

I'm going with this choice.

I’m going with this choice.

I laid the pattern piece on top of the preview window, aligning the vertical and horizontal pencil lines. Then I slipped the preview window out of the way, and cut the flap.

I laid the pattern piece on top of the preview window, aligning the vertical and horizontal pencil lines. Then I slipped the preview window out of the way, and cut the flap.

I interfaced the flap with the same crisp woven used in the jacket front mockup.

I interfaced the flap with the same crisp woven used in the jacket front mockup.

The flap is stitched, leaving an opening for turning. Then the usual seam-trimming, turning, pressing, and slipstitching the opening closed.

The flap is stitched, leaving an opening for turning. Then the usual seam-trimming, turning, pressing, and slipstitching the opening closed.

The flap is slipstitched right above the pocket opening. Be careful not to catch the pocket fold in the the slipstitching.

The flap is slipstitched right above the pocket opening. Be careful not to catch the pocket fold in the the slipstitching.

The flap is not meant to be centered over the pocket.

The flap is not meant to be centered over the pocket.

Done. I like it!

Done. I like it!

And it works!

And it works!

Another step closer to this.

Another step closer to this.