Thursday Jack and I are flying to New York for a week’s visit. I’m no stranger to the Garment District–over the years I’m sure I’ve visited it a dozen times, and easily spent five dozen hours petting woolens and sizing up shirtings in happy reveries.
My 3 in 1 Color Tool is great for helping me discover color relationships as well as interesting neutrals. Plus, card blanks and a mini-stapler for collecting swatches.
I’ve spent hours similarly occupied at Britex in San Francisco; Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, Illinois; and at every fabric and notion store I could find in London for the article I wrote for Threads magazine a few years back.
I was thinking this morning, “I wish I could bring more clothes to swatch fabrics for.” Then I tried photocopying my skirt on our printer. It’s a decent enough color reproduction.
You’d think by now I’d have the drill down–what I should pack as memory prompts for what’s in my stash and wardrobe, what colors I want to coordinate and what yardages I need before being bedazzled by thousands of choices and millions of permutations. And yes, I’ve gotten better–I haven’t hauled my unwieldy pattern catalogue with me for years.
Now that I live in a city (no–a state!) with very limited fashion fabric choices, I want to make the most of my opportunity to see and touch fabrics for myself.
I bought this snappy black and white checked wool on a Chicago trip back in October 1999. It’s been waiting for the right moment ever since. Oh dear.
In the past I’ve made the mistakes of buying too much fabric on trips, thinking “I’ll never see this again!” or buying nothing, thinking “I don’t know where to start! This is overwhelming!”
The upper photocopy is of the scarf in layers. The lower photocopy is of a single layer of scarf with a blank sheet of paper laid on top.
This time, I think unless I’m absolutely certain a fabric is perfect, and that I have a plan for it, I’ll just ask for a swatch to bring home. I need time to see the swatch next to items in my wardrobe or fabrics or buttons in my stashes.
The coloring is so subtle that I’ll bring this vintage Pendleton jacket with me to the fabric stores.
If it’s a home decorating fabric, it’s essential to see it under the lighting conditions in our home with other fabrics, paint colors, and furniture.
The fabric I used for our living room curtains, with paprika-colored linen trim and covered buttons to jazz it up, and samples of the paint colors for the walls and fireplace.
I used to think buying the fabric right then and there was saving money on shipping and swatch requests. True enough.
Swatches of fabrics I’ve sewn into garments.
But when I edited my stash three years ago, I saw that the majority of my bad decisions were made on my travels. The money spent on fabric I never ended up using could have paid for a multitude of swatch requests. Now I know.
When I buy a ready-to-wear jacket I usually have to shorten the sleeves–and then I get a swatch. I’ll be looking for coordinates.
It’s entirely possible that I won’t buy a thing on my latest foray into the Garment District. I’ll come home with fistfuls of cuttings to consider at my leisure and a myriad of ideas for fall sewing.
A chance to find out-of-the-ordinary notions: these Vintage Vogue blouses call for 18- or 20-inch separating zippers.
One thing I can guarantee: I’ll see a color—-a color combination–a print–a weave–a plaid–knits–trims–buttons–home dec fabrics–that I’d never imagined before but like instantly, that gets me thinking in an exciting new way.
So although I do my best to plan, and to leverage my precious opportunity to find fabrics to build a wardrobe purposefully, it’s those electrifying surprises that really put a smile on my face.
Stash fabrics waiting to be sewn up.
What will give me that sensation of “I’ve never seen that before!” and “Hello, old friend!” at the same time? I can’t wait to find out.
I was browsing recently through a lot of photos my photographer had shot in a session last fall and realized I’d never gotten around to writing about this Misses’ top designed by Katherine Tilton that I’d made.
I just looked through my notes to recollect what changes I made. They were the usual ones: folding out a little excess, which raised the underarm, the waist, and the positioning of the pin tucks. I think I narrowed the back piece a little, too.
I’d never made pin tucks before. I knew I had to do these 1/16″ tucks precisely so that the neckline edge would be the right length for properly attaching the collar. My sewing machine manual showed how to use the blind hem attachment–
to make the pin tucks:
You seasoned pin tuckers are probably laughing up your sleeves, but I was amazed that I was able to achieve accurate results easily after just a little practice.
I chose a cross-dye cotton for a practice run.
The fit turned out fine.
But even though I enjoyed making this blouse I don’t have plans for another one. For one thing, I’m actually not keen on the effect of the pin tucks on me. I think the lines draw the eye toward this poofy middle, where the viewer may wonder whether I had seconds of everything at the brunch buffet last weekend.
I mentioned this suspicion to a friend, who assured me it was all in my imagination. Maybe so. I still think there are more flattering looks out there for me, like the Vogue 8772 blouses I sewed a few weeks ago.
Also, I like having a blouse I can choose to wear tucked or untucked. This blouse is one to wear untucked only, to show off those radiating lines.
Speaking of showing off radiating lines, when I first saw Katherine Tilton’s pattern I was reminded of Ginger Rogers in The Gay Divorcee.
How can I write a tidy little review of a book that, like its author, is seeking–but only occasionally finding–order? I’ve just reread my extensively mind-mapped notes from Year of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub, and my mind is jam-packed with random thoughts about this sometimes exasperating book.
After the publication of her book Year of No Sugar Schaub decided to confront another personal and societal bugaboo: the burden of owning So Much Stuff. In a effort that simply screams “follow-up book project” Schaub was going to confront her borderline hoarding tendencies by tackling the 22- by 25-foot-square “Hell Room” of the Vermont home she shared with her husband and then 10- and 15-year-old daughters.
Surely a year would be more than enough time to identify, sort, reassign, relocate, and organize–or dispose of–the mementos, arts and crafts supplies, and occasional dead mouse that crammed the malodorous Hell Room.
But, no surprise, facing a lifetime of indecision about what to own and why took longer than a year to sort out. And, of course, it was far from a year of no clutter–it was about fifteen months of maddening uber-clutter, which afflicted the entire house and its occupants. Schaub seems to have made dozens of trips to drop off clothes, books, CDs and miscellany at thrift shops, charities, and libraries with no end in sight.
At the end of this book younger daughter Ilse’s offhand reference to going to the “art room” indicates how the Hell Room has taken on a healthy new identity and role, even if the “disgusting” carpet is still waiting to be taken out and the family photos still need to be dealt with.
Similarly, Schaub has advanced from attaching symbolic importance to virtually every object she touches, requiring her to keep it to the end of time, to being a little more selective. This is no small amount of progress in a year, so good for her.
Although thankfully I don’t have a Hell Room to deal with, as a sewer I have fabrics, patterns, and other supplies that can easily cross the line into clutter. What is clutter, anyway? Schaub’s clever chart, “What Is My Stuff?”on page 161, shows that items that meet these two conditions, “I do NOT have a designated place to keep it” and “I do NOT use it on a regular basis,” constitute clutter.
I don’t disagree, but I think that’s just a starting point for myself as I ponder fundamentally reorganizing my sewing room in the next couple of years. What might happen if I maximized my planning and production spaces? What if I could painlessly edit down my supplies with no cost to my enjoyment or creativity? I mean to find out.
I said this book could be exasperating. Here are a few examples of what didn’t work for me:
Schaub says she’s read Marie Kondo’s international best-seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, but seems to have completely misunderstood Kondo’s approach:
Although Marie Kondo disapproves, I’m not about to stop collecting my own life. It has been a source of pleasure for me ever since I can remember; it helps define me. (page 125)
Anyone who’s heard of Kondo’s book knows about her criterion for keeping things: “Does it spark joy?” If you answer yes, it matters to you and is worth keeping. I’m not seeing a conflict.
Schaub also criticizes Kondo acolytes who “follow Kondo’s book to the letter and purge away an enormous percentage of their belongings” in what she seems to imply is a game of one-upmanship among themselves:
When they are done, they turn and look to their closets and shelves and see a small handful of things they love, a fraction of what had been there before, and they feel a tremendous sense of freeness. (p. 267)
A few pages later she writes
I’m part of the way there, to Kondo’s land of the immaculate, joy-sparking place, but I also know that I will forever be an exile to that land. (p. 274)
An exile has to have lived in a place first before either skedaddling under duress or being booted out, so I think Schaub is more accurately an outsider.
Perhaps this “immaculate” place Schaub imagines feels sterile, one-dimensional, or too untethered for her tastes and the Kondo super-fans too smug and self-referential. I certainly would also find it hard to listen to her friend Mary-Anne triumphantly relate, twice, in excruciating detail, how she had tossed in the trash the “paper Santa” made by her daughter after treasuring it for years. Schaub rightfully questions whether Mary-Anne is trying to convince herself she did the right thing.
My underlined and flagged copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
However, Schaub was never in danger of stripping her Vermont home bare. When her mom offered her the family piano, which Schaub never learned to play, here’s what happened:
And then, as Mom prepared to move, what was I to say when she offered me this millstone? How could I say anything except, “Yes, I want it”? (p. 138)
Oh, I dunno, how about “Yes, I want it, but we already have Grandma’s piano, and nobody’s playing that one, so I’m sorry; I really have to pass on your offer.” Instead, she took in the second piano, because selling the piano “simply isn’t me” and “giving away these things seemed wrong to the very core of my being.” (p. 139)
Surely, between experiencing the unsettling void of purged closets and the suffocating surfeit of a growing houseful of memory-laden, cumbersome Stuff, there must be some middle ground that would allow the author to be “me.”
On the “what worked for me” side of the equation:
–Schaub’s observing that most decluttering advice addresses only one or two facets of the clutter problem while ignoring all the others:
A big reason [the advice isn’t helpful] is a misunderstanding of the many different stumbling blocks there are to getting and keeping clutter-free. The advice columnist or organization expert on the talk show might address one of the existing problems or even two but none of the others.
Because there are so many different facets of the Stuff problem, they can all merge together to form a tangled mass as daunting as that island of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean. (p. 175-176)
–Her realization that the Hell Room was not an island, entire of itself, but part of the main:
The next morning I woke up on fire. I had come at last to the realization many doctors already know: every part of the patient is connected to every other part of the patient. I was dismayed to realize that my prior one-room approach wasn’t cutting it. I was going to have to approach my house holistically. I saw it all very clearly: the pantry, the guest room, the front room, the Hallway Room, the Hell Room–they all existed like dominoes: where one went, the rest followed. (p. 236)
–And lastly, when Schaub weaves strips of many treasured items of clothing into her “autobiography rug” at her weeklong summer weaving workshop:
It felt wonderfully therapeutic to work with these fabrics that clearly had a lot of metaphoric significance for me and transform them. I couldn’t hold on to everything forever–no one can–but I could take these bits that I still had and make something useful and beautiful with them. I couldn’t keep everything. Couldn’t know what had happened to the things that went missing. But I could do this. (p. 223)
Early on Schaub tells us she’s been to art school and has degrees certifying her as “an Official Creative Person,” which explains her urge to collect materials with any potential for art and craft projects. It’s only during this week at the weaving studio, however, that we get to see her create something.
Up to this point we see her collect and keep items in their original state: mementos, which help her recall her past, and supplies, which have potential for future artworks and craft projects. It was interesting to see her engage directly with her stuff: interpret it, take control of it, and actively design it into something combining her past, her present, and her future that was dynamic and inclusive.
Making the autobiography rug struck me as the type of creative experience Eve Schaub could repeat endlessly as a way to express the “me” she is so fearful of losing and also to intelligently, sensitively edit the flow of physical life. If she can avoid getting caught in the deadly undertow of Stuff, maybe she can ride that powerful wave instead.
For inspiration she might want to check out the work of Emily Adams Bode, a fellow “official creative person” (Parsons), who merited a story in July 13’s New York Times “Styles” section. Described by the Times as a “millennial men’s wear designer with the work ethic of a midcentury dressmaker,” she’s turning textiles such as century-old quilts, 1930s dress fabrics, and souvenir tablecloths into jackets, shirts and pants that are useful, beautiful–and simply delightful.
It’s hard to limit myself to one example. Here is a jacket Bode made from a 1960s blanket with a lining printed with football helmets. I love how she reimagined this blanket.
Even though summer can be the easiest and most fun season to sew for, I didn’t sew much for summer during our years in Minnesota. After all, it wasn’t till May that I was finally convinced I could probably go outdoors without a coat, and in September I was bracing myself for the first coworker to make a nasty crack about when the first snowflakes could be expected to fall.
I made this sleeveless blouse but in a shorter version.
To shrink the summer-sewing window of opportunity smaller yet, we often traveled in June, July, or August–sometimes to places with fabric stores selling wonderful cottons and linens for light dresses and sleeveless blouses. In New York, Chicago, and even Glasgow a citrus-colored handkerchief linen or snappy seersucker would catch my eye and sneak into my suitcase for the trip home–where it would languish desolately in the chill of my basement sewing domain.
Vogue 8772: the muslin
Oh sure, I can hear you say, I could have sewn for summer at another time of year–but that would have required me to, number 1, take off my thermal underwear to try on that dress or blouse, and, number 2, believe that warm weather would ever return. Ha–I was nobody’s fool! And so I lived with a serviceable but hardly extensive summer wardrobe for years–not that anybody noticed.
Extra fabric at the waist interferes with a smooth line.
Now that I’m back in central Ohio, I’ve noticed. In reality and in spirit, summer is definitely here. The peach trees here are set to produce an unheard-of two crops this season. Strawberries, corn, tomatoes are all showing up early and in abundance, begging to be used–just like my summer fabric stash.
That gaping armhole must go!
Rummaging through the back of my closet a few weeks ago, I found muslins I’d put away late last August– too late for slowpoke me to fit, alter, and sew those patterns into summer attire. But now, for once, I could consider myself ahead of the game. I tried on my muslin of Vogue Easy Options 8772, read through my notes from last year, and it really wasn’t long before I had produced a wearable test and three well-fitting sleeveless blouses.
To improve the fit and look called for some simple changes within my very limited but adequate alteration abilities:
moving the armhole up a little to avoid annoying gaping
raising the bust dart half an inch
tucking out an inch or so of excess length in the back waist and shortening the front to match
changing the armhole finish from a bias strip to a facing
Drafting a facing to replace the simple bias strip the pattern called for.
In the muslin I found the bias-strip facing bulky and I wanted a finish that would distribute the bulk more nicely: a facing.
Wearable test: the armhole gap is still there.
In this drapey linen-rayon the excess at the waist really shows.
Another view of that unsightly, but fixable, ripple of extra fabric in the back.
Could I just fold this out and make it disappear, please?
Next: a seersucker. I do like this blouse, despite my inscrutable expression.
I tucked out about an inch in the back pattern piece. Maybe I could have fussed more with it but I’m happy.
Given my limited fitting skills, I’m fine with this result.
Very important: the armhole passes the volleyball test. (And no, I was not the gym class volleyball star.)
Now I’m happy with the fit. I rifled my stashes to make this version from a cross-dye cotton shirting and handsome black mother of pearl buttons.
Should I take in a little more in the back darts, or would that be overfitting? Possibly the latter.
Pass/fail? It’s a pass. Oh, but what’s going on with that left shoulder?
The armhole passes the hailing-a-taxi test.
Having worked out the fit issues I could confidently cut into a favorite fabric: a summery John Kaldor stretch cotton
The–crisp?–feel to this cotton may be due to the spandex, so this fabric doesn’t drape. But the pattern is well suited to this fabric so all is well.
The armhole passes the hailing-a-drone test.
This Vogue Easy Options blouse lives up to its name: it is easy to sew, and just the sleeveless option by itself is putting variety into my summer wardrobe at a swift pace.
I’ve since sewn a short-sleeved version that was equally successful with a couple of tweaks, which will appear in a future post.