Blinding Glimpses of the Obvious: De-stash Edition

Readers,

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.

Wow.

–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

  • figure type
  • coloring
  • degree of contrast
  • lifestyle
  • 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!

Voilà:

Reds, oranges, and yellows.

Greens, blues, and purples.

Browns, blacks, grays, whites

Multi-colored

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.

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!

A Perfect Vintage Jacket

Readers,

Last week I brought home a very special souvenir of Jack’s and my visit to Portland, Oregon: a vintage jacket with a mysterious past. GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2941 (460x432)It came from a lovely little shop, Living Threads Vintage, on Taylor Street opposite the Multnomah County central library.

I was actually on my way to the Button Emporium next door, which an antique dealer had recommended to me, but I couldn’t resist stopping to examine the dress hanging on a mannequin outside Living Threads. IMG_9753 (345x460)

And the next thing I knew, I was chatting with Christine Taylor,IMG_9752 (345x460) co-owner with her husband, Travis, while browsing a rack of jackets.

In short order I was telling myself there would be no harm in trying on this very interesting jacket made from Pendleton wool.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2943 (460x307)This jacket intrigued me–and Christine, too–and we both wondered who made it, when, and for whom. It was beautifully made and in perfect condition.

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The seaming and darting are so beautiful.

The front facing is finished so elegantly.

The front facing is finished elegantly.

Was this jacket custom-made by a dressmaker or tailor for a specific customer?

Or could this have been sewn as a sample for a clothing line, never manufactured, instead ending up languishing in an archive for decades? We may never know.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2894 (313x460)

The buttons were fantastic.  I admired the bold and yet restrained combination of buttons, fabric, and garment style. They seemed to be made for each other.  GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2907 (460x381)

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2955 (460x307) I would love to work out such wonderful combinations using the buttons I’ve bought at vintage fashion fairs and shops in the UK and Europe. It’s so inspiring to learn from real-life examples.

We wondered when this jacket was made. Could it have been the late ’50s, when more patterns were appearing without the cinched waist?

Another great in my pattern pantheon.

From 1959, this has a big collar and an unbelted version. I made the leopard-collar version a couple of years ago.

The fabric suggested 1940s or 1950s to me. This Pendleton wool was the color–no, colors–of stone-ground cornmeal, with beautiful variegations of grays or browns.

My trusty 3 in 1 Color Tool suggests that this yellow has been lightened with white and shaded with gray.

My trusty 3 in 1 Color Tool suggests that this yellow has been lightened with white and shaded with gray.

The tag read “Extra Small.” The fit was nearly perfect on me–a rare occurrence.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2954 (307x460)

I love a big collar–and this one could be worn a couple of ways: wider and flatter,GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2918 (312x460) or higher and closer to the face. Interesting.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2891 (303x460)

Christine liked this intriguing Pendleton jacket on me, too. Still, I wanted another opinion, and I knew where to find it: at the Heathman Hotel, just a few minutes’ walk away. That’s where most of Jack’s fellow Peace Corps members and their wives were staying for our biannual reunion.

I told Christine I’d be back shortly with my friend Rosa to make a final decision. At the hotel, I managed to snag not one but three judges–Rosa, Dora, and Kathryn–who eagerly returned with me to see the shop and the mystery jacket.

Even though I modeled the jacket for my review community over a summery white t-shirt and seersucker pants, the vote was a unanimous and enthusiastic YES. Okay, so there was a little extra room in the shoulders; I could live with that, we agreed.

The inside is perfect. This seems never to have been worn.

The inside is perfect. This seems never to have been worn.

Back home, I pondered what garments I could pair with this jacket to create outfits. Tops, skirts and pants should be simple, I thought, to support this jacket in its starring role.

I scooped up some hats, gloves, and an alligator bag and made the two-minute journey to my sister’s photo studio, where I experimented in front of the camera.

First, with a beret in a hard-to-pin-down mushroom brown color that went with the shading in the fabric:

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The sleeves are longer than three-quarters length, but short enough to call for longer gloves. I wouldn’t mind laying in a supply of long vintage gloves. It’s interesting to me that although the collar points down, I perceive the collar as bringing the eye up, which is a big plus. I can’t explain why, but the shape and color of the beret look right to me as part of this ensemble.

Next, a kind of Loden green felt hat, maybe a cousin of a Homburg. (I bought this Eric Javits hat in 1990, I think.)

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Carrying my pretend purse. I will never make a living as a mime.

The color of the hat is nice with the jacket, but the shape is not. There’s no relationship with the jacket.

How about with this burgundy rabbit-felt hat by Ignatius Creegan? I love this hat.

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There’s my purse! Much better!

The combo is promising and worth pursuing. I see burgundy gloves in my future.

Next up: a Harris tweed hat I bought at a vintage stall in East London on a chilly, drizzly Sunday a few years ago. Quite the workhorse, this hat, keeping me warm, dry and moderately fashionable through several winters.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2986 (238x460)I think this is a nice combination.

That I could wear a plain neutral beret; a luxurious, plush, rich-colored felt cloche; or a rough-textured plaid tweed fedora with this style and color of jacket was quite exciting.

Lastly, I tried a whimsical beret in an eye-popping orange-red.

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Both items had plenty of personality but seemed willing to work together.

A jacket that can deliver on whimsicality, practicality, and beauty, too? That’s something worth celebrating!

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Whee!

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And with this silliness, this photo shoot is now concluded.

After spending decades in storage, it’s time this jacket started doing its job in the world, don’t you think?  I certainly do.

Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for studio photography.

Taylors Buttons, London

Readers,

When I did the research while living in London for two months in 2011 for my article “Sewing Destination: London, England,” (Threads magazine, June-July 2012), I tried to be as comprehensive as possible. There was no ready-made master list of suppliers, markets, events, tours, and museum and library collections of interest to sewers and fashion lovers to work from. Using my experience as a reference librarian, I just did my best to compile my own list.ThreadsLondon

When I put the finishing touches on my manuscript for Threads I hoped to high heaven I hadn’t made some glaring omission.

On subsequent trips to London in 2012 and 2014 I felt fairly confident that I hadn’t left out any source that was really important. Then last week I visited Taylors Buttons.IMG_9033 (345x460)

How I missed learning about Taylors Buttons diligently searching online and on foot I’ll never know–its website proclaims “Established over 100 Years.” It was only when I was taking the Savile Row tailoring class last year that I heard about it, from our teacher, who also told us about  Kenton Trimmings.

Press the button to sound the buzzer.

Press the button to sound the buzzer.

As you know, I have an affinity for button shops–the older and dustier the selections, the better–so when I browsed the Taylors Buttons “Shop Images” I knew I had to see this place for myself.

Open sesame!

Open sesame!

Last Monday, then, after leaving Kenton Trimmings I made my way to 22 Cleveland Street, London W1.IMG_9034 (460x331)

Even though I had bought buttons for my 1941 McCall “mannish jacket” in Salzburg, I was curious to know whether the proprietor, Maureen Rose, might have another intriguing choice, so I brought a swatch of my green and blue tweed.

The window display hardly prepares the visitor for what lies within.

The window display hardly prepares the visitor for what lies within.

I have now consulted enough button counter staff to distinguish two styles of button-matching: the swift and exuberant hash-slinging approach and the slow and pensive meditative approach. Both are good.IMG_9021 (460x345)

The button saleslady in Salzburg was a hash-slinger, briskly laying out button matches for my consideration like a short-order cook plating eggs and sausage for a famished breakfast crowd.IMG_9020 (460x345)

By contrast, Maureen pulled buttons like a rare book seller retrieving volumes from high, dusty shelves for my perusal. I would place the buttons on my swatch and then we would scrutinize the combination together as if contemplating the merits of a painting slated for auction.IMG_9019 (460x345)

If I hesitated and said, almost apologetically, “It’s just not…right,” Maureen nodded in agreement and reapplied herself to the task. The right color but wrong size. The right size but wrong finish. All in a day’s work for a purveyor of buttons.

Carded buttons, loose buttons.

Carded buttons, loose buttons.

“How long will you be in town? I could dye buttons to match your fabric.” She told me how many days it would take to complete the order. I would have already flown back to the States. I was afraid to ask about the costs of dyeing plus shipping, too.

Dyeable buttons.

Dyeable buttons.

More dyeable buttons

More dyeable buttons.

At last Maureen said “Well, I’m stumped.” Yet she was not ready to concede defeat. She had a new idea. She walked to a corner where she unearthed another box containing some variegated bluish-green buttons, 36s, the perfect size  for my jacket front.IMG_9018 (460x310)

They also turned out to be a perfect complement to my blue-green tweed. We both knew it. We paused to admire the match.

Buckles

Buckles.

The boxes read "Buckles bits & bobs", "Funky Buckles."  I think these are dyeable. Wonderful!

The boxes read “Buckles bits & bobs”, “Funky Buckles.” I think these are dyeable. Wonderful!

The problem was, this style came in only the one size. I had wanted a smaller size for the sleeves. I had always seen smaller buttons on sleeve vents and assumed that was a rule. I pondered slip-stitching my sleeve vents closed and foregoing buttons on them altogether.

However, Maureen said that Savile Row tailors who have been her customers have used the same size buttons on sleeves as well as fronts.

“If Savile Row tailors do it, then I can, too,” I declared, and picked out three buttons for the front, one for each sleeve, and two extras.

I especially liked these red buttons--and the oval black ones are great, too.

I especially liked these red buttons–and the oval black ones are great, too.

In the course of our conversation Maureen mentioned that the buttons very likely dated from the 1940s.  “That’s interesting,” I said. “The pattern I used for my jacket is from 1941, and I’m pretty sure my fabric is vintage, too–from the ’50s, if not earlier.”  That the buttons seemed so natural on the tweed was perhaps not such a great coincidence after all.

The building Taylors Buttons is in has a historical designation.

The building Taylors Buttons is in has a historical designation.

As I continued to browse the Taylors Buttons trove Maureen returned to filling an order for covered buttons using a device that might have been a century old. Interrupting her work to take a couple of phone calls, she hung up and commented on fashion designers’ typically short deadlines. “They always want it done yesterday,” she said, matter of factly.

Maureen Rose covers buttons to order using a a sturdy old device. Wish I had one like this!

Maureen Rose covers buttons to order using a a sturdy old device. Wish I had one like this!

When I asked if I could take some pictures to show readers this wonderful place (this is always hard for me to do because I feel I am imposing on people and being presumptuous), Maureen readily agreed. In its quiet way Taylors Buttons is a legendary place. It has been written about before–even though I did manage to miss all the press when I researched my “Sewing Destination” article.

At last I am correcting my glaring omission. Taylors Buttons is a sewing destination of the first rank. It’s one of those places I want to see not only once but many, many times.

On a high shelf, these beauties. 1930s? '40s?

On a high shelf, these beauties. 1930s? ’40s?

A Couple More Button Places in Berlin

Readers,

Before Jack and I leave Berlin tomorrow morning for Cambridge I wanted to mention two other places I looked at for buttons.

One was recommended recently by Helen on her sewing blog, Button & Snap: ZickZack Nähwelt, Torstraße 49.IMG_8189 (460x345)

As Helen noted, the entrance to the store is actually around the corner–and then more than a few yards’ farther, I discovered, on Schönhauser Allee.IMG_8188 (345x460)

As Helen said, ZickZack has an impressive selection of buttons.IMG_8191 (460x357)

I pulled out the green and blue tweed swatch of my jacket, and found a couple of color matches, but not in the right  sizes, so no purchases here.IMG_8193 (345x460)

I happen to like trying out buttons on my own, so I was glad the salesladies left me to my own devices for several minutes before one came over to inquire whether I needed any help.  IMG_8196 (460x345)

Zick Zack's shirt buttons

Shirt buttons

Leather buttons (I think)

Mostly leather buttons, I think

When she heard me reply in English she had an “Oh dear” look on her face, but I’m sure that if I’d wanted to buy anything we would have completed the sales transaction just fine.IMG_8200 (460x345)

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The second place I wanted to mention is Idee Creativmarkt, on Passauerstraße, across the street from the legendary department store KaDeWe.

A catchy storefront for Idee, just steps away from KaDeWe.

A catchy storefront for Idee, just steps away from KaDeWe.

Idee carries lots of buttons, as well as other sewing notions and fabrics.Idee, Berlin

I didn’t find buttons for my jacket there, although as at ZickZack there were some nice choices but in the wrong sizes.IMG_8111 (460x345)

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I didn't see a sign saying so, but these buttons look to be especially for jacket fronts and sleeves.

I didn’t see a sign saying so, but these buttons look to be especially for jacket fronts and sleeves.

I was almost relieved I didn’t see anything fantastic for my garment, because, unless I misunderstood, some buttons cost more than 3 Euros apiece and they didn’t strike me as anything special.

Nice, but no matches for my jacket.

Nice, but no matches for my jacket.

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I think some of these buttons are made of wood, horn, or antlers.

However, on another occasion, for another garment, I easily could have found a perfect match.

These flower "buttons" would be darling on spring frocks.

These flower embellishments would be darling on spring frocks.

You just never know when or where that fantastic combination will turn up.

And that’s why I keep looking.