More Than What Meets the Eye

Readers,

One morning late last week I piled five jackets, a blouse, and my mannequin Ginger into my nifty red folding utility wagon.  After a two-minute commute I arrived at my sister Cynthia’s studio for our photo shoot.

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Trying to look “natural”.

Almost as an afterthought I brought my latest creation: mint-green flannel pajamas.

I wasn’t sure at first that I’d even write about these pajamas.  They were so ordinary.  What could I possibly say about them?

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Butterick describes this as “Misses’ top, shorts, and pants.” The word “pajamas” is not used.

I could always write a standard review.

Yawn.

I won’t keep you in suspense. My review is: They’re just fine. Thanks, Butterick.

And the alterations?  I shortened and/or narrowed:

  • the top front and back pieces
  • the facing
  • the pocket pieces
  • the sleeve and sleeve band pieces
  • the pants leg and pants leg band pieces
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Flat piping inserted between the pocket and the pocket band. Next time I’ll plan a contrast piping.

The pattern shows optional piping.  My flannel was so luxuriously thick, self-fabric piping with a filler cord was out of the question.  I tried using the flannel in a flat piping for the pocket and sleeve band.

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The flat piping inserted between the sleeve and the band added bulk to the seam, so I skipped piping the front edge and collar. But a lighter, more flexible contrast piping would look nice.

That was still pretty thick and stiff inserted into the seam.  So I skipped piping altogether for the front opening, collar, and pants leg bands.

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The ripply collar: a mistake, or a design feature? You choose.

I don’t know how I did it, but I bungled sewing the collar smoothly onto the neckline.  I was in too much of a hurry to get this project done to see whether the problem was at the pattern-drafting stage (Butterick’s fault) or at the pattern piece-cutting stage (my fault).

If I sew these pajamas again I’ll find the source of the rippling problem and fix it before I cut any pieces. This time, though, I’m calling the rippling a “design feature.”

Wow, what a boring review.

But wait! There was something interesting thing about this pajama-sewing project. It really brought home to me that the things I sew are collections of associations I make and stories I tell myself.

Examples:

The fabric. What others see is a nice cotton flannel.  But what I remember is how I found this beefy flannel, in a color I’d never imagined myself in before, priced at $3.00 a yard on the clearance shelf at Sew to Speak‘s new home.  The amount left on the bolt was just what I needed.

I was in a hurry to just choose something and get on with sewing up these pajamas for an upcoming trip, so I took a chance on mint green.

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An ordinary button and an ordinary buttonhole? Hardly.

The buttons.  What others see are ordinary buttons. But what I remember is where I was, and why, when I bought those buttons.

I was at Persiflage, a dealer (no longer there) that sold vintage clothing and trims at Alfie’s Antique Market in London. And I came to Persiflage to deliver a copy of the current Threads magazine (June-July 2012), which contained my article, “Shopping Destination: London, England,” to the shop owner. Only the shop assistant was there, I remember. She received the copy with enthusiastic thanks and assured me the shop owner would be delighted that Persiflage had been included.

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These buttons and fabric were meant for each other!

While in the shop, naturally I had to inspect the jumble of vintage buttons spilling out of a couple dozen little drawers.  I found nothing spectacular. But something drew me to four homely little buttons in a deep mint shade, and they returned to the States with me.

To be honest, later I asked myself why I ever bought them:  I’ve never worn mint green! When would I ever use them? Two and a half years ago, when I was packing up my sewing room for our move to Ohio, I put them with a pile of other buttons to give away–if I could find a taker.

Then I got preoccupied with, oh, about ten thousand other tasks, and forgot about finding foster homes for my orphan buttons.

Then it turned out that those homely, mint-green buttons were exactly what this pajama top called for.pajamas_1900-220x460

The buttonholes.  You could be forgiven for thinking these buttonholes are as ordinary as they come.  But what I see is the Magic Key Buttonhole Worker attachment for my family’s trusty old sewing machine.  And I had always viewed this gadget with suspicion and fear even though it had a reputation for turning out a good result.

But when my sewing machine’s reverse mechanism finally gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t make buttonholes.  Then I remembered: a block away, at Cynthia’s, was the sewing machine we grew up with and this Magic Key  contraption.  If I was going to finish this pajama top in time I’d have to learn how to use this thing.

And under Cynthia’s tutelage, I did–at least well enough to produce four decent buttonholes!  Having overcome my initial fear with this modest success, now I’m curious to see whether I’d like the keyhole buttonholes this gadget produces.

It was thirty years ago last month that I bought my sewing machine. Certainly the things I’ve sewn on it, including muslins, must number in the many hundreds now. Wearing clothes I’ve made stopped being a novelty long ago (although I always count the bigger successes as minor miracles).

Elasticized waist, capacious pockets--pretty standard.

Elasticized waist, capacious pockets–pretty standard.

But it was these everyday (or everynight?) pajamas that got me thinking how much just one ordinary sewing project can foster a rich network of happy associations.  Think, then, of what a lifetime of sewing projects can yield.

The other day I was flipping through the latest Lands’ End catalogue that had arrived in the day’s mail. When I saw the prices for their pajamas I gloated that mine had cost only a fifth as much.  But then, mine had cost lots more in time to produce. I admit it: I’m a slowpoke.

But in the end, I feel richer making my own clothes, and I don’t mean only, or primarily, in monetary terms, because maybe in that regard I’m only breaking even.

Even when my collar turns out ripply,  I’ve almost certainly enriched my fund of associations, as well as my fund of knowledge, in ways I am still discovering, and benefiting from, thirty years on.

I call that a net gain.

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Mint green may be my new favorite color!

Guest Blogger: Our Advice Columnist, Miss GTS

Miss GTS has been watching me–and watching out for me.

If the writer of this blog has been somewhat elusive,

And more than a little aloof and reclusive,

It’s only because she has been on sabbatical

Attempting to superintend projects radical

To transform a house locked in 1958ness

Into an abode that is destined for greatness.

Our fixer-upper.

Our fixer-upper.

Warned her sister, “Of tobacco this dwelling does reek,

And I fear that its outlook’s no better than bleak.

I’d love to have you in the neighborhood

But this house’s call for labor would

Give pause to mighty Hercules!

So– I ask you, please,

Consider other properties!”

 

Auditioning condo, flat, and house

Separately and with Jack, her spouse,

Hourly checking Zillow online,

Flying down to Ohio from time to time,

Such possibilities our blogger weighed,

But naught else ever made the grade.

Meanwhile, “The Reeker” on the market stayed.

Wallpaper with a cocktail theme on the walls down to the basement rec room.

Wallpaper with a cocktail theme on the walls down to the basement rec room.

Her sister said, “I know a builder

Whom this house would not bewilder.

Should he walk through and give opinion

Whether this could be your next dominion?”

His verdict? “The Reeker” was ugly, but sound:

Improvements were “doable,” he said, but profound.

The sale was negotiated and house was won,

And that’s when the adventure was really begun.

 

To freshen each surface by cigarettes tainted

With gallons of primer Jack painted–and painted.

If the cigarette smell was bad in the house, it was even worse in the garage.

If the cigarette smell was bad in the house, it was even worse in the garage.

 

Then followed the guy to change locks on the doors

And men armed with sanders to finish the floors.

The chimney was swept and the radon abated,

Termites were found and then exterminated.

The furnace was checked; gas leaks eliminated;

AC was replaced, and walls were insulated.

 

Drained was the yard and then pruned was the tree,

Driveway resurfaced; and from AT&T,

Came service for Internet, phone, and TV.

 

But all this was only the warmup, you see.

 

For after the house was safe and sound

Came the decorating round.

 

Our blogger’s new haunt was the hardware store

Where she gathered and scrutinized paint chips galore.

Hypnotized, online for hours she’d browse

Millions of pictures and stories on Houzz.

 

She tried to continue to blog without failing,

Doing a series on Kenneth King’s Smart Tailoring,

Chronicling her jacket–while just down the hallway

The carpenter’s crowbar made bathroom walls fall away.

The upstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

The upstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

The upstairs bathroom, gutted.

The upstairs bathroom, gutted.

The upstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

The upstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

 

But while plumbers were fighting to vanquish corrosion

She found that her focus was suffering erosion.

 

She had to be ready to issue decisions

And equally ready to offer revisions;

She was on alert for doorbell, phone, and text

And was constantly thinking about what to do next.

She tutored herself how to execute floor plans,

And more plans, and more plans, and more plans–and more plans!

 

The basement remodeled, the first bathroom followed,

And in a new welter of choices she wallowed.

And although home designers are heavily vaunted,

There wasn’t a one who could say what she wanted.

None else could define and refine her dreams

And turn them into living schemes.

The basement rec room when the house was staged for sale.

The basement rec room when the house was staged for sale.

The basement remodel.

The basement remodel.

Basement: Clean and bright.

Basement: Clean and bright.

 

She warmed to her task; she plunged into the deep end

And, bathyscaphe-like, she started to descend

Into memories of objects and places she’d been

That expressed an essential sensation within,

Then translated the feelings to physical objects–

And dozens, and dozens–and dozens of projects!

 

Still a bathroom to go, and the big one–the kitchen–

Were lined up on the runway, and our blogger was itching

To do those jobs justice. But ‘twould court disaster

To think she could serve any more than one master.

 

So she promised her blog she’d be back, with a wink,

And turned her attention to choosing a sink

And countertops and enough appliances

To support all the major domestic sciences.

 

But she also imagined the feeling and mood

She wanted when they were preparing their food,

And the smell of their coffee, in dim morning light,

And the rituals of closing their kitchen each night,

And what colors and patterns ideally expressed

Generosity, civility, and happiness.

Where, and how, might I use these colors, patterns, and combinations in our house?

Where, and how, might I use these colors, patterns, and combinations in our house?

 

Meanwhile, her blog waited and silently beckoned,

For her to pick up where she’d stopped, and she reckoned

She’d start again “soon,” but–not just this second.

 

I watched all this, Readers, with unblinking gaze–

The heartening progress and dreaded delays.

The kitchen got done; second bathroom did, too.

Before: the kitchen

The kitchen, when the house was staged for sale.

The kitchen, nearing completion.

The kitchen, nearing completion, before the linoleum floor was installed.

Downstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

Downstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

Downstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

Downstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

The dust having settled, now I sought a clue:

I wondered if she would return to her pace

Or suffer from more than a little malaise.

 

So I thought I’d inquire and make my view plain,

And I walked to the door of her sewing domain.

In that doorway I stood with my arms akimbo

And simply asked, “When are you leaving this limbo?

Your mannequin, Ginger, is de-energized,

And if she had a head she’d be rolling her eyes.

Ginger the mannequin has been wearing the same outfit for months!

Ginger the mannequin has been wearing the same outfit for months!

And readers are asking about your demise–

(I suspect that they’re angling to buy your supplies…)

And my job is saying a word to the wise,

But these last twelve long months I’ve had none to advise!”

 

“We’re all in the doldrums, we all seek employment–

And doing our work would restore our enjoyment.”

 

Emboldened, I said, “Please forgive me for prodding,”

(And I’d swear in the corner that Ginger was nodding),

“I refrain from advising without invitation,

But I’d like to help you defeat hesitation.

You’ve been in the thrall of this house long enough:

It’s time that you wrote about sewing your stuff.”

 

“You’re becalmed at the moment; it’s hard to get traction

When you are inactive instead of in action.

The bulk of your work on the house is now finished;

Its gravitational pull is diminished.

The blog’s pull is weak now–but starting to strengthen;

Your concentration’s beginning to lengthen.

I sense your momentum may be in the wings

If you just give your flywheel a few good, strong spins.”

 

At this point, dear Readers, did I descry

A glimmer return to our blogger’s eye?

 

“Your blog’s a UFO*, that’s all,

And I should hope that you would recall

My prudent counsel to get things sewn

Is to do it yourself–but not do it alone.”

 

“Engage the right expert to see your way through,

And as I’ve said before, the right expert is you.

This blog’s entirely your invention–

You know your goal and your intention.”

 

“For months I’ve seen you lay the groundwork

For lovelier and even more profound work.

You sewed living room drapes, for heaven’s sake,

And shirts for Jack that take the cake!

Curtain rings, brackets, and finials being painted for the living room drapery project.

Curtain rings, brackets, and finials being painted for the living room drapery project.

Testing out spacing pleats for the living room draperies.

Testing out spacing pleats for the living room draperies.

You finally came round to fitting and altering

Without histrionics, or fainting, or faltering.

What’s more, you’ve been sewing many a muslin–

The number must be approaching a dozlen!”

 

“Well, that all is quite true,” said our writer, blinking,

And I believe I divined that the old girl was thinking.

 

“So you are getting things sewn, but not all the way,

What I tell you’s the truth, or I’ll eat my beret:

You’re a writer who sews, and you don’t fully digest

Until you’ve attempted a jokey or wry jest

And through your efforts to others explain

To inform or at least to entertain.”

 

“Writing’s your real game, so spring off that bench

And stitch up that lounge robe or jacket or trench,

Then proceed to report upon how it all ended,

Reaping double rewards from your efforts expended.”

 

I rested my case with a voice magisterial:

“Sewing bloggers,” said I, “never lack for material;

I know you’ve the house–and Italian, now, too–

But you’re never alone–we are here to help you.”

This past January Jack and I started studying Italian together at Ohio State University.

This past January Jack and I started studying Italian together at Ohio State University.

 

Our writer looked hopeful; I gave her a fist bump.

 

And if Ginger had arms she’d have given a fist pump.

She told me her old clothes were itchy and riling,

That she was impatient for new clothes and styling–

 

And if she had a head, I believe she’d be smiling.

 

 

The muslin of this McCall's "Misses' Lounging Robe" from 1951

The muslin of this McCall’s “Misses’ Lounging Robe” from 1951

And here is the illustration.

And here is the illustration.

 *UnFinished Object

Field Trip: The Alley Vintage and Costume, Columbus, Ohio

Readers,

What do you get when a master costumer in the International Costumers’ Guild and her professional makeup artist husband open a store following 30 years in the theater costume business?335The Alley (460x334)

Why, you get The Alley Vintage and Costume, where the motto is “You Are Never Too Old To Play Dress Up.”

With a knowledge of fashion and costume history both broad and deep, Kit and Joseph can guide customers to create outfits fantastical or historically correct (or both).

With a knowledge of fashion and costume history both broad and deep, Kit and Josef can guide customers to create outfits fantastical or historically correct (or both).

I spent a recent morning getting a grand tour of the store from owners Kit and Josef Matulich. They encouraged me to stow my coat and bag and make myself at home.

One moment, it's part of a display...

One moment, this swim cap is part of a display…

I started out with pencil and clipboard determined to capture facts,  but I confess I quickly jettisoned both reportorial gear and demeanor and dove headlong into trying things on.

...and the next moment this swim cap is on my head. Everybody into the pool!

…and the next moment it’s on my head. Everybody into the pool!

How could I not?

The impulse was too strong to resist, especially with Kit egging me on, even drafting store assistant Abbey, of the sewing blog Life in a”Mads” House, to play model for a unique, on the spot trunk show.

Abbey, having a Dorothy Lamour moment.

Abbey, having a Dorothy Lamour moment.

At The Alley, Kit and Josef can never predict what clothing or accessories will come in the door next, which is much of the fun.

Looking for the ultimate alligator purse? Meet Percival.

Looking for the ultimate alligator purse? Meet Percival.

They also can’t predict what customer dreams and expectations will come in the door, which is much of the challenge.

Looking for something green for St. Patrick's Day?

Looking for something to complete that St. Patrick’s Day outfit?

Do you love dressing up for Halloween? The Renaissance Festival? Historical reenactments? There are hundreds of costumes to choose from.

Do you love dressing up for Halloween? The Renaissance Festival? Historical reenactments? There are hundreds of costumes to choose from.

How do they help customers realize those dreams with an ever-changing inventory?

Go ahead--try it on!

Go ahead–try it on!

I like it, and so does Jack. The collar is mouton.

I like it, and so does Jack. The collar is mouton.

A lifetime’s experience in costume design and construction, a grounding in history, and a flair for improvising all come in handy, as does an irrepressible sense of fun.

“I do this out of a sense of history and to make people happy,” Kit says, recounting the story of a teenage customer gleefully twirling in the full-skirted 1950s dress she chose using a gift certificate from her grandmother.

An outfit Kit would like to make--and she's got the skills to do it! My sewing ambitions suddenly seem awfully modest!

An outfit Kit would like to make–and she’s got the skills to do it! My sewing ambitions suddenly seem awfully modest!

This exquisite waistcoat was made for a wedding,

This exquisite waistcoat was made for a wedding…

...in Paris, about 1826.

…in Paris, about 1826.

History can take the shape of the stylish suits of an executive secretary in Buffalo, New York in the 1950s.

These suits were all worn by the same smartly dressed secretary in Buffalo, New York.

These suits were all worn by the same smartly dressed secretary in Buffalo, New York.

This suit dates from a time when the department store or dress shop was local, not a branch of a national chain.

This suit dates from a time when the department store or dress shop was local, not a branch of a national chain.

I would love to design my own label, so I'm always on the lookout for inspiring examples.

I would love to design my own label, so I’m always on the lookout for inspiring examples.

Some suits interest me for a particular detail. I wonder how I might use a pocket design like this.

Some suits interest me for a particular detail. I wonder how I might use a pocket design like this.

Or it can unfold in the heavily beaded visitée jacket made in the atelier of the legendar Charles Frederick Worth.

A heavily beaded jacket: the front...

A heavily beaded jacket: the front…

The back (the mottled appearance of the velvet was produced by the way it lay on the beads)

the back (the mottled appearance of the velvet was produced, alas, by  improper storage of a previous owner),

...and the discreet label, WORTH.

…and the discreet label, “WORTH PARIS.”

Everywhere there’s a story begging to be told–even in the Easter chick-yellow negligee knitted and sewn by the mother of the groom for her new daughter-in-law’s wedding night.

Abbey and Kit can hardly contain themselves as I try on this trousseau item.

Abbey and Kit can hardly contain themselves as I try on this trousseau item.

I feel very...fluffy.

I feel very…fluffy.

"Now I think I know what it's like to be a kitten," I told them.

“Now I think I know what it’s like to be a kitten,” I told them.

Or in a Navy sweetheart hankie and pin.179The Alley (460x351)

And history also takes the form of family pictures on the back wall, with a stylish Aunt Edna from the 1930s gazing down upon us.

A love of clothing and costume has come down the generations in Kit's and Joseph's families.

A love of clothing and costume has come down the generations in Kit’s and Josef’s families.

This riding jacket is incredibly small, even by my standards.

This riding jacket is incredibly small, even by my standards.

The back is every bit as beautiful as the front.

The back is every bit as beautiful as the front.

But everywhere at The Alley there are also new stories waiting to be told, in new combinations of clothes and accessories, worn for new occasions undreamt of in the minds of their designers and former owners.

Were these made to be worn underneath--or on top?

Were these made to be worn underneath–or on top?

The clothes of yesteryear had to have the proper undergarments, like this

The clothes of yesteryear had to have the proper undergarments, like these

...and this,

…and these

and this bullet bra. Don't ask.

and this bullet bra. Don’t ask.

The women who strode triumphantly out of department stores gloating over their new purchases might be amazed at the second lives their hats, dresses, jewelry, and even underpinnings are enjoying.

Resort wear!

Resort wear!

Earrings!

Earrings!

More earrings!

More earrings!

Lovely little evening bags!

Lovely little evening bags!

Gloves galore!

Gloves galore!

Platform shoes from the '40s!

Platform shoes from the ’40s!

How about walking a mile in any of these?

How about walking a mile in any of these?

And likewise, the men who proudly donned their Oddfellows garb, or bowlers, or polyester suits–what might they think about the reincarnation of these items?

Look like no one else on Prom Night.

Look like no one else on Prom Night.

Bowties!

Bow ties!

Bicentennial lining from 1976!

Bicentennial lining from 1976!

Me: "How do you define 'lounge lizard'?" Joseph: "Something '60s, maybe '50s. Something between cool and cheesy."

Me: “How do you define ‘lounge lizard’?”
Josef: “Something ’60s, maybe ’50s. Something between cool and cheesy.”

Hats! (And an astronaut suit!)

Hats! (And an astronaut suit!)

My favorite section of any vintage store is always the hats. And The Alley had lots.

Dozens and dozens of hats.

Dozens and dozens of hats.

I kept Cynthia busy snapping pictures.

1964? '65?

1964? ’65?

A little number to wear to lunch after attending the flower show.

A little something to wear to lunch after attending the flower show.

I'll wear this Mr. John number when I'm in that bandana-Mongol hat mood.

I’ll wear this Mr. John number when I’m in that bandana-Mongol hat mood.

Buy a bunch of violets, Miss?

Buy a bunch of violets, Miss?

A, those were the days, cherie!

Ah, those were the days, cherie!

Whatever role I'm auditioning for, I don't think I want the part after all.

Whatever role I’m auditioning for, I don’t think I want the part after all.

Am I wearing this backwards?

Am I wearing this backwards?

Groovy!

Groovy!

Did the Christian Dior hat designer have  morel mushrooms for lunch?

Did the Christian Dior hat designer have morel mushrooms for lunch? And who is that looking over my shoulder?

The brain coral exhibit at the aquarium was fabulous!

The brain coral exhibit at the aquarium was fabulous!

After two and a half hours at the Alley I had barely scratched the surface of what this store offered. I wanted to look at earrings, study more dressmaker and tailor details in jackets, examine 1970s plaid skirts to harvest for yardage…

And try on more hats!

A return visit is definitely in order.

As I left the shop I bade goodbye to Percival, “See you later, alligator.”

And you know something? I could swear I saw him wink.

Percival says, "See you soon!"

Percival says, “See you soon!”

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for photos!)

 

 

Getting Things Sewn Turns 2

Readers,

Yesterday, February 16, meant that another year has gone by and Getting Things Sewn is 2.Two_candles_Happy_bday_0267 (460x386)

In Getting Things Sewn’s second year, the grand total of things I got sewn was…

Zero!

You heard right. Zero.

I did make progress, however.

Let’s take a walk down Sewing Blog Memory Lane and see what has happened since last February 16:

After Jack and I decided to sell our house in Minneapolis, Minnesota and move to Columbus, Ohio I planned my new sewing-space-to-be by zones instead of defaulting to one big storage space.

I got ready for packing and moving by reading a stack of books on decluttering,IMG_5147 (460x345) and learned how to plan my wardrobe reading the newly published Looking Good…Every Day.IMG_5148 (345x460)

I got a good start on a 1959 Vogue jacket, taming ravelly fabric and testing the collar piece

I trimmed closely to the zigzagging without trimming it away.

I trimmed closely to the zigzagging without trimming it away.

and making samples of bound buttonholes

Will it fit comfortably?

Will it fit comfortably?

and the pocket

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.

before I closed down my basement sewing domain.

I learned about a fabulous trade journal, American Fabrics, that was the highlight of my field trip to the American Craft Council’s library

The hope and optimism of postwar America.

The hope and optimism of postwar America.

(although the corgis did steal my heart).

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.

Our advice columnist, Miss GTS, told a desperate reader how to pack up her UFO to finish later.

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!”

Inventing an intuitive, easy, and painless system, I edited my pattern stash

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

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

and reported the results.

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

I went to the Textile Center’s Fabric Garage Sale and bought gorgeous yardage

This was only the beginning.

This was only the beginning.

to pair with my growing collection of vintage buttons.

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

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

Jack and I bought a house in Columbus

With Kelly, our great real estate agent.

With Kelly, our great real estate agent.

and put our house in Minneapolis on the market.

The cottage is for sale!

The cottage is for sale!

I made a field trip to Lancaster, Ohio to see a show of costumes designed by Edith Head,

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.

and returned to meet the old girl herself.

Who would have thought?

Who would have thought?

I made a field trip to New York to participate in Peter Lappin’s annual Male Pattern Boldness Day. Peter gets the credit (or blame?) for inspiring me to start my own blog.

I set up my sewing room in our new home, making a floor plan with zones.

Moving paper is easier than moving tables!

Moving paper is easier than moving tables!

With a sewing room, but no sewing community developed yet, I wondered what it would take for me to make progress.

A sewing blogger must wear many hats.

A sewing blogger must wear many hats.

It continued to be clear that I need fitting and pattern-altering help from an expert, and I found one teaching classes at Columbus’s Cultural Arts Center.

Columbus, Ohio's Cultural Arts Center offers classes in painting, metal work, and much more.

Columbus, Ohio’s Cultural Arts Center offers classes in painting, metal work, and much more.

As a bonus, I’ve gotten to meet wonderful classmates who are fast becoming sewing friends.

I continued to want to make beautiful jackets and coats, but more than ever I wanted to make the process enjoyable and not only the result. When I learned about a brand new DVD set about tailoring, I ordered it right away.IMG_6704 (288x460)

Watching Smart Tailoring, I thought it would be both instructive and fun to sew jackets following Kenneth King’s “old school” and “new school methods.” I am gathering my materials

Tailoring canvas and a June Tailor board for jacket-making

Tailoring canvas and a June Tailor board for jacket-making

and tools

 These tailor point scissors are indispensable.

These tailor point scissors are indispensable.

and am about to do the pattern work for my first “old school” jacket.

As I look back over Getting Things Sewn’s second year, I see the predictable disruptions of househunting, house-selling, packing, moving, and settling in. But I also see a very promising beginning to my new local sewing community. I am finding people to say “Wow!” to where I live and online. I’ve come to see that’s essential to building and maintaining my momentum.

I am also finding people to say “How?” to–experts who can inform and nudge me to build my fund of knowledge and experience.

Zero things sewn wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for year 2.

But as for year 3 I’m off to a great start. IMG_6373 (460x308) (2)

If you ask me, there’s nowhere to go but up.

In the elevator of Columbus's great LeVeque Tower, built 1927.

In the elevator of Columbus’s great LeVeque Tower, built 1927.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for candles photo.)

How Do I Proceed?

Readers,

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but this blog is not all that much about completed projects. It’s about process–my process, at any rate. That’s why this blog is called “Getting Things Sewn” rather than “Things Gotten Sewn.”

William Alexander's new book poses with my 17 berets.

William Alexander’s new book poses with my 17 berets.

Since I’m in process mode (aka The Slough of Despond) a lot more than in finish and celebrate mode, I am very interested in others’ accounts of their quests and processes. Sometimes I learn a thing or two.

The beginning of a baguette, from Cooks Illustrated's excellent new recipe.

The beginning of a baguette, from Cooks Illustrated’s excellent new recipe.

I recently read Chris Guillebeau’s new book, The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life. Guillebeau’s quest was to visit every country in the world (193, from the list he was working from), which took him a decade, most of which seemed to be spent waiting for planes. My takeaway: avoid goals involving airports or turbulence.

And last night I finished another book about a quest, Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me and Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander. This morning I found myself writing him a letter.

The baguettes rising.

The baguettes rising.

Dear Mr. Alexander:

I just finished reading Flirting with French, in which you describe your quixotic desire to be French, which apparently has nothing to do with studying for the citizenship exam and everything to do with drinking absinthe (but not smoking) in dark cafes. The goal of becoming French naturally means your having to learn and speak the language, a situation overripe with comic possibilities.

Everybody knows that an American trying to be French is a doomed cause. Actually, though, I think your secret desire is to look French, whatever that means to you or to other people.

Fully risen, the baguettes await slashing.

Fully risen, the baguettes await slashing.


At the risk of  incurring a massive case of envy in you, I admit that I myself have achieved this goal–no, it’s not even a goal–without trying.

Countless times strangers have come up to me on the street, or in hallways (in public buildings, not at home) and exclaimed, “You look French!” This has happened so often that I can sometimes sense the comment coming the way some pets are said to sense impending temblors, and brace for impact.

When I'm dressed like this, strangers run up to me on the street making a wild claim.

When I dress like this, strangers run up to me on the street. Why is that? (photo by Cynthia DeGrand)

The speaker always has an air of triumphant discovery–of what, I do not know. Meanwhile, I have an air of confusion.

Assuming the remark is meant as a compliment, though, most of the time I remember to say “Thank you.”

“You look French!” falls from people’s lips without their (the people’s, not the lips’) knowing I have a French last name, have studied French, or can make pretty good baguettes.

The baguettes have been slashed. Ready for the oven!

The baguettes have been slashed. Ready for the oven!

Approximately 100 percent of the time I have been so identified as “looking French” I have been wearing a beret.

So, mon ami, if you want to look French–at least in America–my advice is simply to plant a beret on your head,  go for a stroll, and wait for the “You look French!” exclamations to roll in.  If this experiment becomes the subject of your next book, remember to put my name on the acknowledgments page.

Perhaps risking even more envy on your part, I have gotten as close to being perceived as French as most Americans ever will, again without trying. Once, at the train station in Dijon, the man selling me my ticket to Lyon told me “Vous êtes presque française.”

You are almost French.

Done!

Done!

Although it was possibly seeing my name on my passport or credit card and not hearing my French pronunciation that drew this observation from him, I chose to assume in any case that he meant this as a compliment.

He may have meant, “Nice try. Keep it up.” Then again, he may have meant, “Don’t kid yourself: you will never reach that exalted state.”

I was not wearing a beret at the time. When I’m at that train station in Dijon next time I’ll be sure to wear one and see what that ticket seller says.

Cooling.

Cooling.


But actually, Mr. Alexander, the real reason I’m writing you is not to incur envy but to express my admiration. You dedicated hundreds of hours to tackling the study of French in lots of different ways–Rosetta Stone, corresponding with an online native speaker pen pal, attending a weekend immersion course in the US and a two-week immersion course in France–with varying levels of success. During those thirteen months you had major surgeries and, I infer, a full-time job as distractions.

At the end of that period you weren’t as proficient in the language as you’d hoped to be, although you did reap other wonderful, unexpected rewards.

But, back to the beginning of your learning adventure, when you attended that Second Language Research Forum. You know, when you sat down with Heidi Byrnes and asked, pleadingly, “How do I proceed? How do I learn French?”

A good crumb. (Tasty, too.)

A good crumb. (Tasty, too.)

In other words, how could you translate this perhaps unreasonable but certainly powerful desire into a practical plan to achieve your goal?

Bingo. Exactly what I want to know, too!

She answered, “The difficulty you’re going to have is you will essentially find no materials out there.” 

Well, yes and no. My experience in getting things sewn is there are only too many learning materials and methods out there. The secret is knowing which ones are going to work for you. That’s a very individual thing, and it takes time to figure that out. At least thirteen months, I would guess.

What I’m trying to say is, during year 1 of a venture like yours, maybe all you really learn is–how you learn. You begin building a foundation of resources and practices. Maybe it will be in year 2 that you’ll pick up more understanding. With more practice, in year 3 you may increase accuracy, and in year 4, speed.

Learning enterprises like yours are so inspiring, but then the book project comes to an end, and with it, many a learning project. I hope your learning project continues, however, for your sake, and for us many readers who are also perpetually trying to figure out, “How do I proceed?”

Sincerely,

Paula DeGrand

If one beret has people saying "You look French!" how about 17?

If one beret has people saying “You look French!” how about 17?