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.

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

Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors: Days 3 and 4

Readers,

In class today I found myself writing a letter in my head to my sewing teacher. Here it is.

A basted jacket presides over our empty classroom.

A basted jacket presides over our empty classroom.

Hello Edith!

Get out the smelling salts because you may be in for a shock. Yesterday and today in class I drafted a trouser pattern. No, really!

Victoria is teaching us the "fly line" method of trouser-drafting.

Victoria is teaching us the “fly line” method of trouser-drafting.

I, who have been resisting your entreaties for ten years to learn pattern-drafting, was drafting a pattern!

Now brace yourself: I found it very absorbing.IMG_4548 (460x345)

I won’t claim I understood everything. Don’t ask me to reproduce what I did in class or explain all the reasoning; I’m not that enlightened. But today I  reached a tipping point. I found myself thinking that I could actually learn enough about pattern-drafting and alteration to succeed. And I could succeed enough to feel rewarded for my efforts.

Christopher Foster-Hicklin's notes. We met him on Day 1.

Christopher Foster-Hicklin’s notes. We met him on Day 1.

I didn’t reach this conclusion logically. I just felt it. I noticed I was saying things to myself like “It would be fun to draft and make beautiful wool trousers for Jack,” and “I could baste Jack’s sportcoat together and have him try it on for fit.” These activities sounded interesting and wonderful–and possible!

Trouser draft.

Trouser draft.

You know I’ve been dreading that sportcoat project for years. A couple of weeks ago, though, in preparation for this trip to London, I discovered that the dread had dissolved into simple curiosity. The fear was gone, and that’s when I opened up to the possibility of learning what I had to learn. No, “had” is the wrong word. “Longed” is the word.

From Christopher's notes: "Sketch for a backless waistcoat."

From Christopher’s notes, a sketch of a backless vest

Around 4:00 this afternoon, as our class was winding down for the week, I said to Victoria, “A miracle has occurred. I was just thinking, ‘I want to baste the pieces of Jack’s sportcoat together and have him try it on!” The miracle was that I didn’t feel dread or obligation but, as I told you, just curiosity. I told Victoria, “That sportcoat is the gateway to the sportcoat I really want to make.”IMG_4557 (460x345)

While waiting for my train back to the flat this evening I remembered writing that the sportcoat project could turn out to be a stepping stone. Whether or not it becomes a completed garment, it is serving a purpose. The effort has not been wasted, and the reward can be richer than I could have imagined.

Left: a back piece for a morning coat.  On the right: a side panel, but probably for a different coat.

Left: a back piece for a morning coat. On the right: a side panel, but probably for a different coat.

This morning, Edith, I really wished you could have been in class to see master tailor Christopher Foster-Hicklin’s notes as a 16- or 17-year old in the late ’60s when he was a student at the Tailor & Cutter Academy. He made a gift of them to Victoria, and when she showed them to us we were entranced by their beauty and utility.

A bellows pocket pattern flat...

A bellows pocket pattern flat…

As she leafed through pattern pieces, notes and sketches Victoria explained the shape of a pocket, the peak of a lapel. Christopher is still working as a master tailor–as he told our class Tuesday, although he celebrated fifty years in tailoring in 2012, “I’m not 90 years old.” These notes and sketches are part of a living continuum.

...and folded.

…and folded.

Before I came to this class I asked myself what I wanted to get out of it. I could chalk it up as simply another interesting experience. Or I could challenge myself to keep learning–and using–techniques to make more beautiful, more lasting clothes.

Waistcoat sketches

Waistcoat sketches

In my own way I can be part of the continuum, too. I like the sound of that! I hope you have some openings in your appointment book because I see more exciting projects ahead!

Your slow but devoted student.

A label from one of the tailoring companies Christopher has worked for in his long career.

A label from one of the tailoring companies Christopher has worked for in his long career.

Making the Best of It

Readers,

A longtime reader of this blog wrote me recently, “Getting Things Sewn is all about making things happen, not just letting things happen.”IMG_1302 (460x345)

I let out a big sigh.

Oh, I know she meant to be complimentary.

But if I swivel 90 degrees in my office chair here in the planning corner, I can see the blouse I am not sewing this afternoon because I am writing this post.

The irony, readers, isn’t lost on me.

Three times a week I write about getting things sewn when I could be getting things sewn!

I could be churning out more muslins, sewing more garments, building more outfits and a wardrobe faster, but noooo–I’m stopping to take notes and pictures, mind mapping story ideas and threads before I write a single word in the next post.

But when I ask myself, “If you stopped blogging, would you actually spend the extra 20 hours a week getting more stuff sewn?

Would I have

without the push and pull of a blog?

Ha!

But readers, let me save you the trouble of starting a blog to get your own stuff sewn.  Here is my number one discovery:

Getting things sewn doesn’t mean that I have to do every step of the process myself.

So what have I found so far to boost my effectiveness exponentially?

Designing setups that do the work for me

Creating zones that perform specific functions in my sewing space:

  • planning and writing
  • cutting
  • sewing
  • pressing
  • storage

Creating a chart to guide my choices:

  • designing garments
  • designing sewing projects
  • buying ready-to-wear
  • designing a wardrobe
  • designing a sewing space
  • buying equipment and supplies

Using tools I find not only useful but downright fun

  • the 3-in-1 Color Tool for finding color matches and relationships
  • mind mapping on MindMeister.com for planning and for writing warmups
  • Microsoft OneNote for collecting ideas and images for projects and posts

Knowing my own aptitudes–and ineptitudes

Believe it or not, since taking the Johnson O’Connor battery of aptitude tests three years ago, knowing where I am mediocre or downright dismal has been more enlightening than knowing what I do pretty well.  The test results have actually liberated me from struggling to be merely competent to invest in my strengths.

My spatial abilities are only so-so. With training and practice they could get oh, 10 percent better. But what would be the return on that investment?

Which leads me to my next discovery:

Unabashedly seeking expert advice

Even though Edith has been my sewing mentor for a decade, only recently have I strategically tapped into others’ expertise. My behavior suggests I used to think that asking others for help was imposing on them or an admission of defeat: a method of last resort . That led to lots of frustration and unfinished projects.

Having a blog forced me to seek answers in order to progress in my projects and have things to write about. I started moving through challenges and having successes tapping into the special knowledge of others rather than avoiding challenges and remaining stuck relying on myself.

Now I positively revel in seeking and receiving expert help. As a matter of course I

  • mark the sewing salon schedule at Treadle Yard Goods on my calendar and attend often
  • consult with my sewing friends in a Facebook group one of them set up. (Thank you, Shelly!)
  • bring sewing questions galore to our group when we meet at each others’ homes.
  • make appointments with pros

Without defeatist attitudes holding me back, I’m accomplishing more. And guess what? Experts like to use the knowledge they’ve worked so hard to build. I knew that from the information-dispensing end as a reference librarian, but now I know from the receiving end.

From these discoveries I have concluded that doing it myself doesn’t have to mean doing it alone. On the contrary: if I’m going to succeed in getting my things sewn, I’ve got to use every trick, tool, professional and personal resource I can round up. Where I can leverage systems, processes, expertise, and even the knowledge of my own weaknesses, I can be more productive with less effort.

Who knows? If I stay on this trajectory long enough, I may accomplish all my sewing projects with no effort!

I’ll know I’ve reached the pinnacle of achievement when my longtime reader writes back, “Getting Things Sewn is all about letting things happen, not just making things happen!”

Slow Sewing

Readers,

Monday I was going to finish my jacket.  Yup, grand finale. Get it done with a flourish, take pictures, congratulate self, write post. Move on.

Here’s the reality.  No upper collar, no lining, no buttons, no hems.

My 1930s jacket: moving along--slowly.

My 1930s jacket: moving along–slowly.

Admittedly, I have made progress.

Look! Sleeves!

Sleeve heads!

A sleeve head fills out the sleeve cap.

A sleeve head fills out the sleeve cap.

Shoulder pads!

Shoulder pads made to measure

Shoulder pads made to measure.

Lining pieces drafted and cut! The red flat piping inserted accurately between the facing and the lining!

That zippy red flat piping really stands out against the understated pale blue.

That zippy red flat piping really stands out against the understated pale blue.

But–done? Not even close.

And then today’s post was going to be about Jack’s and my volunteering this morning helping to take in donations for the Textile Center’s annual Garage Sale that takes place Saturday.

And then this happened.  Flight cancellations, the light rail down, spinouts.

Jack shoveling out our walks from an April snowstorm.

Jack shoveling out our walks from an April snowstorm.

And I did not unload cars of fabric, yarn, and other sewing paraphernalia today. So that post idea has been scrapped.

Both of these occurrences got me thinking about making course corrections, and about slow sewing.

Sewing slow (or slowly) is what I’ve always done. I’m a slowpoke.

But “slow sewing,” as described by Patricia Keay in the February/March 2011 issue of Threads magazine, isn’t a speed but an approach:

With time on your side, the sewing improves as you become more confident and competent. By slow-sewing test samples and experimenting with techniques, you front-load future projects and keep the learning curve from becoming an obstacle. By overcoming the challenges, you release your creativity and, in the end, you have something exquisite to show for it.

Like the Slow Food Movement, which Keay cited as an inspiration, slow sewing values quality over quantity and the experience of production at least as much as the result. Readers responded strongly and positively in a slew of letters to the editor. I think they felt that Keay had captured something essential they’d been feeling–and missing.

Like Moliere’s bourgeois gentleman, who was delighted to discover he had been speaking prose without realizing it, it appears that I’ve been unwittingly practicing slow sewing.

It’s not as if I could quickly sew the vintage patterns I dreamed about but out of some higher principle I sewed them slowly. No, my choice was between sewing slowly and–giving up.

Some choice.

But Patricia Keay’s article made me think about the virtues of embracing slow sewing. I’m 80 percent of the way there already. Consciously choosing slow sewing will, I think, relieve me of self-imposed obligations to produce results in a preset length of time or number of blog posts. I’d also enjoy my projects even more than I do now.

I would guess that every sewer defines slow sewing a little differently. Here is what slow sewing is (and isn’t) for me.

What Slow Sewing Isn’t

Slow sewing isn’t fussy. It’s not neurotic.

Slow sewing doesn’t use an old technique simply because it’s old.

Slow sewing doesn’t reject new methods, equipment, fabrics, or designs simply because they’re new.

Slow sewing isn’t procrastination or evasion.

Slow sewing isn’t inefficient.

Slow sewing isn’t about making extra work.

Slow sewing isn’t necessarily hand-sewing.

Slow sewing isn’t about technical excellence alone.

Slow sewing isn’t even only sewing.

Unrealistic expectations can fuel disappointment. This pattern is NOT easy!

Unrealistic expectations can fuel disappointment. This pattern is NOT easy!

The Realities

Much of my sewing slowly has stemmed from poor or incomplete directions.

Then there have been times I’ve needed an expert’s advice and have had to wait for an appointment with my teacher or a class.

There’s the probability that I’ll never sew so many notched collars, or linings, or coats, for example, ever to be fast at those things.

Lots of times I’ve had other things to do–like go to my job–that have taken me away from sewing.

I have a somewhat low aptitude for structural visualization. So pattern-altering is a trial, not a fun challenge.

All of this can lead to moving through sewing projects at a snail’s pace. I try to minimize these frustrations.

What Slow Sewing Is

Slow sewing recognizes a superior result and pursues ways to attain it. It has standards and aspires to mastery.

Slow sewing requires investing time, money, space and abilities, but the reward is exceptional quality.

Slow sewing takes nothing for granted. It understands materials and processes, but always asks questions, tests, analyzes, and problem-solves for particular figures, patterns, and fabrics.

The Benefits

Having Edith Gazzuolo as my garment-sewing teacher and Shelly Isaacson as my soft furnishings teacher  has made me a practitioner of slow sewing methods whether I knew it or not.

The draperies I sewed from Shelly's designs and hands-on instruction are exquisite and one-of-a-kind.

The draperies and valances I sewed from Shelly’s designs and hands-on instruction are exquisite and one-of-a-kind.

How has that benefited me?

I have an ever-growing fund of sewing knowledge of methods (good) and problem-solving (even better). And what started out being difficult, like making bound buttonholes or sewing notched collars, has become doable.

The more knowledge I have of materials and principles–not just in my head but in my eyes and fingers–the more creativity and control I can exercise, and the more success I experience.  Pattern instructions are more like suggestions I can take or leave.

I’m willing to invest in learning demanding techniques that I could use many times.  I love jackets and coats and am willing to pay the price of admission: learning tailoring. In slow sewing this is not a big deal.  It’s what you do, and it’s worth it.

More and more, I can do justice to beautiful materials. I can buy vintage buttons, or a French label tape from the 1950s with my initials, knowing I can make beautiful clothes incorporating them.

By a stroke of luck I found this French label tape with my initials at a vintage fashion fair in London. How shall I use it?

By a stroke of luck I found this French label tape with my initials at a vintage fashion fair in London. How shall I use it?

Not only knowing I can, but I will.

Many practices of slow sewing cross over into the rest of my life:

  • choosing deliberately rather than acting impulsively
  • taking time to learn to do it right
  • investing in quality rather than quantity
  • testing and analyzing
  • understanding what went wrong
  • savoring successes

Maybe best of all, slow sewing–and now blogging–keep me in action mode. I’m not spinning my wheels dreaming and yearning.

I’m dreaming, doing–and learning.

Notes from my 1930s jacket project a few days ago.

Notes from my 1930s jacket project a few days ago. (I almost never use smiley faces.)

(Note: I’m going to start tagging some projects and posts “slow sewing.”  And since every project has its own timeline, and stages without exciting visible results, I’m going to chronicle several projects at a time and move among them.)