De-stashing on a Deadline

Readers,

I got back from our New York trip to find an e-mail from my local little independent fabric store. Sew to Speak, in Worthington, Ohio, was announcing an event it was calling “De-stash on the Lawn”–a yard sale especially for sewers September 9.  What a brilliant idea.

For a small fee sewers could rent space on the tables on the lawn in front of the store to sell stash fabrics and notions not only to Sew to Speak customers but also to passersby on their way to pick up some basil and tomatoes at the nearby farmers’ market.  Presumably, with our yard-sale earnings we vendors would then be primed to browse Sew to Speak’s beautiful fabric selections for fall to restock our sewing room shelves.

I read Sew to Speak’s announcement first as a customer, and since I’d hadn’t even unpacked my purchases from the Garment District I thought, no, I’ll pass up this event.

Then I thought, hey–I need to be part of this–as a seller.

I slept on the idea but the next morning I was so concerned that table space would sell out fast that I registered to secure my place.

Of course, I saw the De-stash on the Lawn as a convenient solution to the pesky problem of disposing fabrics and scraps, buttons, and sewing gadgets that no charity or consignment store would accept. If all I did was lightly edit my fabrics and notions, spend a pleasant Saturday morning in some good-natured haggling with other sewers, and earn back the $12 I’d spent on table space, I wouldn’t consider the time ill-spent.

But then I wondered how I might leverage the opportunity further, to yield a bigger benefit.  After all, I’ve been mulling over Sewing Room 2.0 for months.

Yes, the sewing room is due for an overhaul.  In the first round, three years ago when we moved into this mid-century fixer-upper, I was happy just to have a biggish room with natural light and good heating (unlike my Minneapolis basement sewing domain).

Now I want more.

No, not more space–more function.  A 17-foot by 13-foot room should work fine, but I’ve got to get a lot smarter about supporting the whole getting-things-sewn process, start to finish.

I sewed for years in a space that just–existed. It performed moderately well and I got moderately good results.  I never even thought about designing my sewing space until I began blogging.

The big lesson I learned from designing my Minneapolis basement sewing domain was:

Space not otherwise assigned a function tends to get filled with stuff.

I’ve found this becomes a serious problem when stuff interferes with doing activities.

Obviously, fabrics (and patterns, books, equipment, etc.) are physical objects and need cubic feet of storage space. That’s a fact.

But designing garments–outfits–even a seasonal collection for a wardrobe–what space does that activity require? Isn’t that important, too?

I had never considered that question until recently. In Sewing Room 2.0 I want to shift the default.

In Sewing Room 2.0, supporting activities will take precedence over storing stuff.

Readers, I am stating this without completely knowing what a Sewing Room 2.0 will look like. But now, I’m eager to find out.

Takeaways from New York

Readers,

Jack and I returned last Thursday from our week in New York.  It was an all-you-can-eat buffet of museum-visiting, Garment District-shopping, and long-distance walking. Here’s a day-by-day sampling of my souvenirs from my trip:

Friday, August 11

  • I bought a lovely scarf at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden shop.

Saturday, August 12

  • I was taken by this sleeveless jacket in the window of Mariana Antinori on Madison Avenue.

    Once in a long while I’ll see a jacket without sleeves and think such a garment might give me the balance of style and practicality I’m looking for.

I like jackets a lot but for my daily life, which includes fixing meals and washing dishes, wearing a regular jacket certainly isn’t practical. Now, if I could have the practicality of a vest but the wider range of styles of a jacket, that would be a sleeveless jacket.  One of these days I’m going to make one.

  • I caught up with attendees of sewing blogger Peter Lappin’s Male Pattern Boldness Day at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum’s exhibit, Force of Nature. The show illustrated clothes and accessories using nature–sometimes uncomfortably literally–as inspiration.  This alligator handbag–

    From the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Force of Nature exhibit, a handbag from around 1938 using a very real alligator.

    –reminded me of the alligator handbag I saw on my field trip to The Alley Vintage and Costume a couple of years ago:

    Looking for the ultimate alligator purse? Meet Percival, mascot of The Alley Vintage and Costume in Columbus, Ohio.

  • I joined fellow fans of Male Pattern Boldness at nearby Panera for lunch and the much anticipated annual pattern swap.  I put half a dozen choice vintage patterns into the growing pile, but didn’t take any out.  Bonus: couturier and master sewing teacher/author Kenneth King crashed the party, and you can’t get better than that at a sewing get-together. He was mobbed, of course.
  • I spent the afternoon in one of the roving bands of Male Pattern Boldness readers ranging all over the Garment District in search of fabrics and trims.  Kyle Dana Burkhardt of the blog Vacuuming the Lawn led our group.  I wanted the chance to see stores I’d never been in before, and I did.  They were amazing
  • Our first stop was Metro Textile Corp. at 265 West 37th St., Suite 908.  The owner, Kashi, had opened his store on a Saturday just for us Male Pattern Boldness Day participants, and I think he was rewarded for his efforts.

    Customers kept Kashi busy unfurling yardage to cut in a frenzy of buying. (Thanks to attendee Venka for taking this photo.)

    My mission was not necessarily to buy anything that afternoon but to take a good look at fabrics to go with the unusual reds and browns in my cactus-print skirt or with the subtle yellows of my Pendleton jacket.

    A photocopy I brought of part of my skirt print helped me identify fabrics to coordinate with these colors from a 1940s-’50s palette.

    I brought the jacket with me, and a decent color photocopy of the skirt’s print, not to mention swatches on index cards of my fabric stash and a small knapsack for wallet, camera, and water bottle. The threat of showers (that never materialized) made me carry a windbreaker, which I tied around my waist.

    All of this impedimenta required managing, as I shifted my bags from hand to hand or shoulder to shoulder while navigating my way around my fellow attendees toward a particular bolt that caught my eye.  Everybody was friendly and helpful, though, and we all did our best to make space for each other. I pulled out my ring of card blanks and Kashi’s law-student son, drafted to be a helper that afternoon, swatched two beautiful linen shirtings for me. I promised to return Monday to have yardage cut.

  • Next was French Couture Fabrics, at 222 West 37th Street, 2nd floor, which proclaims on its website that “our buyers work to get the best fabrics from French Couture Houses like Celine, Sonia Rykiel, Chloe, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton.”  Others in my group might have been eyeing the leathers or the silks, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the gorgeous $12/yard cottons, wondering how many hundreds (thousands?) of dollars customers were willing to fork over for the readymade garments. I had a couple of swatches cut, but actually wanted many more.

    Swatches from Metro Textiles, French Couture Fabrics, Gray Line Linens, and Mood Fabrics gathered Saturday and Monday of my visit.

  • Our next stops were Daytona Trimmings, 251 West 39th Street; and Pacific Trimming, 220 West 38th Street.  In all my past visits to the Garment District I’d never stopped in these stores, thinking they sold mostly ribbons, tassels, and cords, which I almost never have occasion to use–but was I ever wrong. Trim stores sell every kind of hardware , zippers, buttons galore, and other findings and embellishments for clothes and accessories.

    Only a part of Pacific Trimming’s vast selection of buttons.

    Blouse and shirt buttons at Pacific Trimming. I already want to go back!

    Pacific Trimming: hooks and eyes of such variety as I had never imagined. I’m hooked!

I had remembered to bring the slider for my vintage Harris tweed hat to look for a replacement, and at both stores there was a wide selection, although nothing exactly right.

My hot iron damaged the original slider, and my Bakelite substitute was a little too eye-catching. Could I find a replacement in the Garment District?

I liked these sliders but thought they weren’t quite right to replace my damaged one. Having a knowledgeable salesperson help me look was wonderful.

  • Around 4:00 our group wended our way to Bryant Park to rejoin our fellow Male Pattern Boldness Day attendees to brag about our discoveries and envy admire other people’s purchases.  Although I had only swatches to show, my afternoon had been a success, too.  I had the luxury of returning Monday to look at fabrics again at my leisure.

The best part of Male Pattern Boldness Day is meeting members of a special community brought together by the humor, wit, and skill of Peter Lappin.

In Bryant Park with Peter Lappin, creator of the incomparable Male Pattern Boldness.

Sunday, August 13

  • Jack and I met our friend Rosa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we took in the Rei Kawakubo show.  The museum literature says “Her fashions…resist definition and confound interpretation,” and I couldn’t have said it better.  We roamed from one astounding–artwork? garment?–to the next just taking it all in.  I think I was smiling the whole time.  Although I’m sure Rei Kawakubo takes her work seriously, that’s not to say there isn’t a great deal of humor in it.

    With our friend Rosa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Rei Kawakubo show. We imagined students’ reactions if Jack showed up for his first day of teaching this semester in this suit.

  • In another part of the museum, while Jack and Rosa looked at posters from World War I, I browsed a book called 101 Things to Learn in Art School by Pratt Institute professor Kit White. Number 85 was “Your studio is more than a place to work: it is a state of mind.”  That got me thinking: What state of mind would I like my sewing room to foster?
  • In Central Park after our museum visit I looked at my new swatches and swatches from my stash in the natural light.

    In Central Park, comparing swatches from my stash back home with what I’d just swatched in the Garment District. For evaluating colors, natural light sure beats store lighting.

    Monday, August 14

  • Back to the Garment District.

    I’m ready to return to the Garment District, wearing my weskit with big pockets for holding–swatches, of course.

  • At Gray Lines Linen I admired–everything, really.  I love the colors and weights of their linens for shirts and swatched a stripe and a plaid (seen on the swatch card above) for Jack to think about.  For myself, I admired some of Gray Lines’ yarn dye handkerchief linens for blouses and realized that they are all regularly stocked and on the sample card I’d bought last year.
    Back to Metro Textile Corp. to buy the two fabrics I’d had swatched on Saturday’s visit.  Kashi looked surprised–and pleased–that I had come back as promised.  After cutting the two linen blouse fabrics for me he scanned his stock for coordinates and pointed to a terra cotta-colored rayon knit that I agreed was beautiful.  I needed no further convincing that it would be a very nice addition, and took two yards, although now, I said, I’d have to buckle down and learn to sew knits.  “You can do it,” Kashi replied, “Just go slower.”  As I left with my new purchases Kashi encouraged me to come back leading a group.  Maybe I will!

    A plaid linen from Metro Textile.

    A kind of brick red-brown and white cross-dye linen from Metro Textile.

    The cross-dye doesn’t match any specific color in my cactus print skirt, but it still coordinates nicely with all the colors.

    Terra cotta-colored rayon knit from Metro Textile.

Onward to try again to replace the damaged slider for my Harris tweed hat.  I stopped in at Lauren Trimming, 247 West 37th Street, and found one that was fine, for a dollar.

The original slider, which I damaged with a hot iron, and its replacement that I found at Lauren Trimming.

My Harris tweed hat with its new slider.

My last visit in the Garment District was to Mood Fabrics. I knew I’d have to surrender my bags at the store entrance, but I was prepared with big pockets to hold a notebook and swatch cards. It was actually very nice to be free of my bags for awhile.

That morning the aisles were full of kids enrolled in Mood U sewing classes choosing fabrics for their projects and then bringing their choices to the cutting tables.  I sidled past them and began to absorb the breadth and depth of Mood’s collections.  On previous visits I’ve always been dazzled and then overwhelmed by the thousands of bolts and left with nothing more than swatches and shirt buttons.  On this visit, sticking to my “decide nothing in haste” experiment, I enjoyed browsing wools, cottons, linens, knits, and notions as if I were strolling through a gorgeous botanical garden. I had a nice conversation with a salesperson in the Cotton Twill section about raincoat fabrics, and had one swatch cut.  Done.

  • After seeing the Neue Galerie’s Austrian Masterworks exhibition we enjoyed Viennese-style hot chocolate and  cake in its Cafe Sabarsky.

    After viewing Austrian masterworks, some Klimt torte mit schlag.

    At the Museum of the City of New York in the exhibition A City Seen: Todd Webb’s Postwar New York, 1945-1960 we were struck by this photo:

  • 123rd Street, Harlem. 1946.

Tuesday, August 15

  • I was wondering what home decorating fabrics I could see without having to have a designer in tow, which brought me to Zarin Fabrics at 69 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. I’ve made draperies for our living room and dining room and am “planning” (“planning to plan,” at this point, would be more accurate) to sew Roman shades, sheers, valances, and a shower curtain–right after I master pants-sewing and my serger.

    Zarin Fabrics

    Zarin’s selection is certainly big, but I concluded that actually my local home decorating fabric resources at Fabric Farms and Calico are awfully good and only a short drive away.

    An upholstery weight at Zarin Fabrics. Do I have a place for this in our house? Maybe not, but I like it.

  • In nearby Soho I chanced to see Crosby Street, which reminded me that I’d wanted to see the Crosby Street Hotel, one of two hotels in the U.S. designed by Kit Kemp.  She uses color, texture, scale, fabric and soft furnishings are like no other designer I know of. When we walked into the hotel I explained to the concierge that I was very interested in Kit Kemp’s work, and we were immediately invited to look at the lobby, bar, and meeting rooms as we wished.

    Kit Kemp’s typical exuberant combinations of pattern and color on display at the Crosby Street Hotel

    I’m so taken by handmade fabric lampshades–I’m very tempted to try learning to make my own. Have you ever seen the prices for shades like these? Incredible!

    I’m not looking to duplicate Kemp’s hotel style in our own house, but as a sewer I’m fascinated by how much importance she places on textiles. Search her name on Pinterest and see for yourself.

    Wednesday, August 16

  • I visited the Kangol hat store at 196 Columbus Avenue.  I’ve been a fan of Kangol hats for close to 30 years, and on the rare occasions when I can see a wide selection I can’t resist looking.  With help from Kangol salesperson Steve I walked out the door with a new trilby.

    Nothing makes my day quite like a new hat.

    Back at the hotel, I packed my fabrics and scarf and carefully folded my new Kangol to tuck into my suitcase for the next day’s flight home.

Shopping New York’s Garment District: What Shall I Bring?

Readers,

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.

Pendleton jacket photo by Cynthia DeGrand

Vogue Patterns 8772 Blouse: Short-sleeved Version

Readers,

This has been my summer of blouse-sewing. I cranked out several sleeveless renditions of Vogue Patterns 8772 in June, which I’ve been wearing and enjoying a lot.

Next, I tried a version with sleeves.

The collar, I see, doesn’t cover the neckline seam. Call that a pilot error–it’s not a fault of the pattern. I just didn’t fold the collar down right.

Yes, now I see I didn’t fold the collar down right for the photo.

I was wondering whether I’d need to add a little width to the back pattern piece to allow for a more freedom of movement in the sleeve versions.

In a sleeve version I think I want a little more width in the back pattern piece.

This blouse is perfectly wearable, but next time I’ll try adding 1/4th inch width in the back pattern piece across the shoulder area, giving a total of an extra 1/2 inch in the garment, and compare.

I also put my new blouse to the O-H-I-O test, which is extremely important in the land of the Ohio State University Buckeyes:

“O!”

“H!”

“I!”

“O!”

It passed.

(Photos by Cynthia DeGrand)

Butterick 6026, Blouse by Katherine Tilton

Readers,

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.

Now that is a striking effect!

(Photos of me are by Cynthia DeGrand .)