This past weekend I started slimming down my bloated collections of sewing supplies, taking advantage of a “De-Stash on the Lawn” event at Sew to Speak, a local fabric store, this Saturday.
Not only did I discover buttons I’d bought several presidential administrations ago–
Bought about 1991.
–I also had some “aha” moments–of such glaring brightness I had to put on those cheap sunglass things I get from the ophthalmologist when I have my pupils dilated–such as:
Out of sight, out of mind. I need visual reminders!
I can get all excited about buying online classes when there’s a sale, and then forget about those resources when I tackle an actual project months later.
A folder labeled “Fun with Fitting Pants” is now parked with my fitting books in my sewing library. It reminds me that I have Sarah Veblen’s online class (PatternReview.com) as a resource. When the need arises, I’ll print out her downloads to accompany her videos and pop them into the folder.
Folders ready to receive printouts from online classes act as placeholders in my sewing library.
Sewing is an activity that generates leftovers. Unfortunately, they can’t be turned into a pot of soup for dinner or compost for the garden.
No matter how economical and clever we sewers try to be, we always end up with remnants, scraps, and extras. I’m hoping this de-stash event will help redistribute our resources and become a regular occurrence.
Ghosts of shirts past, and ghosts of shirts to come. These loose buttons are now sorted and bagged for easy access. Some are headed for the sale.
Editing my sewing collections is a cinch if I have criteria. Uh–what are those criteria?
I don’t mean “I’ve had that for so long, I have to get rid of it!”
And I don’t mean “I’ve had that for so long, I can‘t get rid of it!”
I do mean criteria based on a solid foundation of current information about my
degree of contrast
tastes and preferences
I realized that my biggest obstacle to getting things sewn was being unclear about all of the above.
As long as I was agonizing over–
“Should I sew this print into a top, or a skirt? Which would be better?
“Is this a flattering color?”
Is this palette from a color analysis 15 years ago still good for me?
“If I sew that, what should I wear with it?”
–my fabrics, patterns, and buttons would languish, unused, which was equal parts horrible and ridiculous.
So I took the plunge to seriously, completely, answer all my fashion and wardrobe questions, which would greatly help me get things sewn. A couple of weeks ago I registered for a program called 7 Steps to Style, created by Australian image consultant Imogen Lamport, and I’m liking it a lot.
If retrieving an object is difficult, it discourages use.
Loose duplicate swatches and swatch cards were in such disarray I didn’t use them much.
Rings hold swatches of shirts I’ve made for Jack, garments I’ve made for myself, and my stash. See which is biggest?
Several years ago I had puzzled over how to store my vast button collection. I moved all the loose buttons into cellophane bags. That was a good idea.
Storing the bags vertically in plastic shoeboxes? Terrible!
I could hardly see my beautiful buttons, and I despise filing.
And the rustling of all that cellophane when I pulled or put back any bags was like the sound of dozens of people noisily opening candy wrappers in a theater. I hated that!
I dreamed of having big, shallow drawers as in a map library or archive where my buttons could be all easily visible.
Then I realized I could achieve my goal almost as well–in minutes, using what I already had.
I roughly sorted my buttons into colors–multi-colored ones got their own category–and spread them out on sheet pans of my baker’s rack.
I’m converting the baker’s rack to mostly supply storage. UFOs are going to be phased out!
Reds, oranges, and yellows.
Greens, blues, and purples.
Browns, blacks, grays, whites
In two seconds I can pull a pan from the rack. In two more seconds I can be scanning for buttons to scatter on a fabric unfurled on a work table. And returning items to their homes is just as easy. Problem solved.
I had started my de-stash project as a way to open up my physical space, but I’m ending by opening up mental space.
I can vouch for the truth of the statement I read recently in that little book, 101 Things to Learn in Art School: “Your studio is more than a place to work. It is a state of mind.”
It’s not just my sewing room that’s getting more spacious–it’s my mind. And they’re both getting ready to welcome some fresh, new thinking.
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.
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.
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.
From 1941, McCall pattern 4065, the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket”
In 2015 I used it for a project following Kenneth King’s “Old School” instructions on his Smart Tailoring DVD.
From 2003 to 2015 I made up this jacket five times.
Don’t ask me why, but I always loved the jaunty pattern illustration.
The actual jackets? I didn’t love them, exactly, although I was proud of the quality of work I did on parts of them. Only recently (like five minutes ago) did I make this crucial distinction.
If I had seen well-lighted, full-length photos of this first version of the jacket on me I could have perfected the fit.
I made the dark tweed one first, starting it in a Palmer-Pletsch sewing camp in Portland, Oregon in 2003 and finishing it at home with guidance from my sewing teacher, Edith.
In 2006, in a stunt of sewing bravado, I sewed burgundy plaid, green heather, and red plaid versions.
The only jacket I’ve ever interfaced with fusible canvas. I know Kenneth King isn’t a fan of fusible canvas, but it turned out to work well in this garment.
I need a little posture-correcting here!
Defiantly shaking my fist at the sewing gods, and with Edith’s encouragement and coaching, I cut the pieces for all three jackets (two requiring meticulous matching) over that Labor Day weekend. Relaxing, right?
I have always liked this plaid for its colors and scale.
I just didn’t want to be intimidated by tailoring anymore, so I cut and sewed the three jackets, with different pockets, over the course of several months.
It’s fun to cut some plaid pieces on the bias. I cut out a hole the shape of the finished flap from stiff paper, and moved the “preview window” around on the yardage. Then I cut the flap pieces.
It’s nice when you can find the right buttons in the right sizes. These are a souvenir of a visit to Edinburgh.
Bound buttonholes are not my forte.
I had a few tutorials with Edith and also used Jackets for Real People by Patti Palmer and Marta Alto extensively.
The bound buttonhole is coming apart. But–I love the subtle coloring of this fabric! I picked it up as a remnant for about $3.00 at the Minnesota Textile Center’s fabulous annual fabric garage sale.
I’m happy with the shoulders and notched collar job I did. This wool was a breeze to work with.
Holes in the lining created from carrying tote bags of books to and from the libraries I used to work at. Of all the jackets, I’ve worn this one the most.
I did learn a lot, and achieved a lot, and am still impressed by the ambition of the goal as well as the results.
I settled for this style of button but think there are better choices out there. Something subtle and matte.
Shoulders are okay, but I keep wanting to subtract a little roominess from the upper bodice.
But if the point of sewing clothes is to wear the clothes, then I didn’t succeed as much as I assumed I would. I didn’t follow through with planning outfits around these jackets, let alone making the jackets the pivotal pieces they deserved to be.
Even though my now four “Misses’ Mannish Jackets” were underemployed in my wardrobe, yet again I turned to this pattern when I wanted to try Kenneth King’s brand new Smart Tailoring DVD last year.
I wanted to try all of Kenneth’s techniques–for a notched collar, felt undercollar, mitered sleeves, and a vent–and the Mannish Jacket met all those specs.
This is Kenneth King’s “hidden pocket”: a nice addition to the lining.
The patch pockets on this 1941 jacket are slightly asymmetrical, which I like.
I did consider many other patterns I’d been dying to try for years–but the prospect of going through the whole muslin, fitting, and pattern-altering rigamarole before getting to the tailoring was just too much. I wanted to finish my jacket before attending Kenneth’s weekend workshop in Cleveland a few months later. (And I did.)
This fabric, which I bought at a Textile Center of Minnesota sale, may well date to the 1950s. It likely came from somebody’s stash. The button dates to the 1940s, according to the owner of Taylors Buttons in London.
So that’s how Mannish Jacket 5 came to be: I sewed it as a learning exercise. And the fabric? I chose that only because I was willing to sacrifice it, if the jacket was a dud. So, looking back, I see just how much learning technique took precedence over making myself something I wanted to wear.
In fact, just now I’m realizing that each of these Mannish Jackets may have been taken on a little too self-consciously as An Exercise in Sewing Self-Improvement.
I suspect this because, when I see these jackets hanging in my closet I hear myself saying:
“I put a lot of work into that.”
“I did a good job [matching the plaid/sewing the pockets/choosing the buttons].”
“I learned a lot.”
“I wish I hadn’t padded the shoulders so much.”
“Are they too long for me?”
“My bound buttonholes are too flimsy!”
“I do love the fabric.”
“If I just sew the right coordinates, I’ll wear them.”
In other words, I still see them as projects more than as garments.
I don’t notice myself saying:
“I love these jackets!”
“When can I wear them again?”
“What can I sew now to make new outfits?”
Don’t get me wrong: the Mannish Jacket series wasn’t a waste of time. I did learn a lot–and not just how to sew a notched collar without flinching. But there will be no Mannish Jacket number 6.
What I had only vaguely felt–a sense that, however hard I had worked on these garments, they still fell short, without my knowing precisely why–became clear to me when I saw the stark reality in properly lighted photos.
These jackets were wearing me more than I was wearing them. The shoulders? Wider than I’d realized before, and not in a flattering way.
I am very dissatisfied with the prominent sleeve caps; they interrupt a clean, straight shoulder line. It doesn’t help that the shoulders are too extended for me. This is the same pattern I used for the preceding four jackets, yet this one turned out so different.
This is too big! So exasperating. Also, I wonder whether I made the best interfacing choices. They are so hard to get right.
The length? Disproportionate on me. The back? Too roomy. This is the 1941 version of–yes, a boyfriend jacket! Of course!
I could alter the pattern pieces for future jackets, narrowing the back and shoulder and taking three or four inches from the 26 1/2″ finished length. I could make a better-fitting Mannish Jacket. However, I think I’d be removing much of what makes the 1941 design distinctive. I also think my appetite for this style has been satisfied.
Instead, I’ll reassign Jacket 5 from bench-sitting as a garment to active duty as a tailoring resource. And jackets 1 through 4 can serve occasionally as light coats flung over sweaters or flannel shirts and jeans to wear on crisp, dry, fall days.
There are critical points on the way to getting things sewn, where, if I do make the extra effort to identify the lessons, I can reap the full benefit.
As I look back at what my Mannish Jackets could teach me, some lessons are:
Photos of myself in muslins and garments give me much better data to work with than squinting in a mirror or getting feedback from well-intentioned helpers.
If the point of sewing most garments is to wear them in outfits, I should pay a lot more attention to the outfit level of planning.
Planning outfits is a skill in itself. If I plan outfits before I sew the garments, I’m more likely to enjoy really successful outcomes. If I sew the garment and then only hope I can incorporate it into an outfit, then I’m more likely to be disappointed.
It’s okay to sew something as a rehearsal for the next iteration–as long as I’m aware that what I’m producing is just a practice piece. If it does become part of my wardrobe, that’s a bonus.
Lessons learned. Now to incorporate them into new practices and put myself on an even more rewarding path.