From the Fabric and Button Stashes: New Pairings

Readers,

What would bring out the best qualities in my latest finds?

What would bring out the best qualities in my latest finds?

Among the ridiculously wonderful simple pleasures in my life as a sewer is seeing how my latest acquisitions go together with what’s in my stashes.

These buttons, from a Spitalfields vintage fair in London, work nicely with this Italian linen-rayon.

These buttons, from a Spitalfields vintage fair in London, work nicely with this Italian linen-rayon.

This is often how my projects now start out. I may see a winning combination of a pattern and a fabric. Later (as in minutes, hours, or years) I may see a richer relationship with additional fabrics or with buttons that seem to have been made for each other.

Another option.

Another option.

Many times I’ve had a fabric in my stash that appealed to me and yet didn’t have the right complements to bring out its best qualities, so it remained unsewn. I’ve wondered whether I made a mistake keeping that fabric.

But then, how about these?

But then, how about these?

Then at sales in Minneapolis, like the Textile Center sale, or the Guthrie Theater costume department sale last fall, or at vintage fashion fairs I’ve attended in London, I may discover offbeat finds that partner beautifully with that “orphan” piece. I discover new (to me) relationships of color and texture.

I cut a slit just large enough to be a pretend buttonhole for a closer look.

I cut a slit just large enough to be a pretend buttonhole for a closer look.

Working out these design puzzles is very absorbing. I only wish I were much, much better at it.

This pair says "Summer suit!"  Do I have just the right three-button jacket pattern?

This pairing says “Summer suit!” Do I have just the right three-button jacket pattern?

When I got back from The World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale just over a week ago, I spread out my fabric purchases and started pulling buttons to try with them.

For comparison, another choice.

For comparison, another choice.

Here are some possibilities. Several look very promising.

How would this chunky button look with this chunky tweed?

How would this chunky button look with this chunky tweed?

Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe, maybe not. Not a first choice.

How about this?

How about this?

Closer, I think.

Closer, I think.

Another try.

Another try.

A contender.

A contender.

Just for fun. There are blue flecks in the tweed. Would these blue buttons work, or are they too much?

Just for fun. There are blue flecks in the tweed. Would these blue buttons work, or are they too much? They deserve to be out in the world, not on a card forever.

There are better choices for this button.

There are better choices for this button.

A possibility.

A possibility.

I so want to put this mid-'40s buckle on something. But is this linen the right home?

I so want to put this mid-’40s buckle on something. But is this linen the right home?

Can't wait to find these buttons their perfect little piece of real estate. What could it be?

Can’t wait to find these buttons their perfect little piece of real estate. What could it be?

Black rounds edged in white, in two sizes. Big ones for the front closure, smaller for pocket trim?

Black rounds edged in white, in two sizes. Big ones for the front closure, smaller for pocket trim?

Monochromatic choices.

Monochromatic choices.

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

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

This orange button and its eight mates have been languishing on the wrong-color fabric for years. This is a much better combo.

This orange button and its eight mates have been languishing on the wrong-color fabric for years. This is a much better combo.

From the World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale

Readers, Yesterday I attended my favorite event of any kind in the whole year: a gigantic rummage sale to raise funds for the Textile Center in Minneapolis.IMG_5776 (460x266) I considered not going this year, since we’re moving and the last thing you’d think we’d want is more boxes to pack. But do you think I listened to reason? No!IMG_5777 (460x279) Not when I could be among hundreds of my fellow fiber lovers. Not when I could rifle through tables piled high with choice discards from other sewers’ stashes and find amazing remnants for bargain prices. Not when I had vintage buttons back home needing fabrics to be paired with.

In the last minutes before the sale opened, buyers limbered up for the race to the tables.

In the last minutes before the sale opened, buyers limbered up for the race to the tables.

No, I was destined to go to the World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale.

Carts at the ready for customers like me buying in bulk. Volunteers stationed at checkout, next to the loading docks.

Carts at the ready for customers like me buying in bulk. Volunteers stationed at checkout, next to the loading docks.

Fittingly, the sale was held at the ideal place for recycling and DIY types: the University of Minnesota’s ReUse Program warehouse. Waiting for the sale to start, we early birds were encouraged to pull out old office chairs ($10 apiece) and sit, not stand, in line. How nice is that? I did have to balance myself gingerly on my rickety chair, but that would be just another colorful addition to my Textile Garage Sale story for 2014.

Beyond the couches were tables of silent auction items like sewing machines and pressing equipment.

Beyond the couches were tables of silent auction items like sewing machines and pressing equipment.

The rest of the year I may swatch one fabric and take weeks deliberating over a possible purchase.  But at the World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale, hesitate and ye are lost. I strode toward the wool and linen fabric sections with a glint in my eye, prepared to make dozens of split-second decisions.

I did!

I did!

This year I made good use of the stash “parking lot,” claiming a large box early, which I then filled without difficulty.

This was only the beginning.

This was only the beginning.

As usually happens, I ran into Steve Pauling, the Bobbin Doctor, in the machines section, where I admired a space-age looking Singer sewing machine and a mangle that had seen better days, both in the silent auction. Steve said he’d been too busy to go see what Ginny herself, of the fabulous Ginny’s Fine Fabrics in Rochester, Minnesota, had donated.

Thousands of patterns, sewing books and magazines donated for the Textile Center sale.

Thousands of patterns, sewing books and magazines donated for the Textile Center sale.

Oh my gosh. I had visited the legendary Ginny’s for the first time last summer when I was researching “Sewing Destination: Twin Cities” for Threads magazine. I’ve been to some of the best fabric stores anywhere–in San Francisco, New York, and London–and Ginny’s easily ranks with them for quality, variety–and price. The stuff that dreams are made of doesn’t come cheap, nor should it.

Having carts made it all the more tempting to buy more.

Having carts made it all the more tempting to buy more.

I had already stowed several fabrics on their original cardboard cores in my stash box. Were they Ginny’s fabrics? Yes, they were! In fact, one of them looked familiar, and I realized I had admired that Italian linen-rayon blend in Ginny’s bargain room in the back of the store last summer.

With my catches of the day.

With my catches of the day.

What other Ginny’s treasures could I uncover? I then investigated nearly every fabric I could find wrapped around a cardboard core on the chance that it was from Ginny’s and at a price I would likely never see again.

Pure linen with a beautiful weight and drape for a suit.

Pure linen with a beautiful weight and drape for a suit.

Eight of my nine fabric purchases ended up being from Ginny’s Fine Fabrics: pure linen, pure cotton, linen-rayon and linen-cotton blends, all about 80 percent off retail prices. I also found a wool tweed that had the look of the 1940s or ’50s in its coloring, a very good backdrop, I hoped, for some of my vintage buttons.

This tweed has a vintage look that should be great with some of my buttons from the '30s, '40s and '50s.

This tweed has a vintage look that should be great with some of my buttons from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

In the magazine aisle I found 19 of the 20 issues of Threads magazine I needed to complete my collection, for all of $2.00.

This linen cries out to be made into a shirt for summer.

This linen cries out to be made into a shirt for summer.

Having made the rounds of the fabric tables about six times, I began to slow down. The patterns, sewing books, notions, ethnic and vintage textiles, UFOs (really!) and machines didn’t interest me this year. Well, the mangle did intrigue me.

An Italian linen-rayon blend.

An Italian linen-rayon blend. 12 yards!

But reason returned. After two intense hours, it was time to call it a day.

Luckily, I was able to wheel my purchases to checkout on one of the ReUse warehouse’s carts, and had help loading the car. Thanks, Textile Center volunteers!

More Italian linen-rayon, in greenish blue for summer.

More Italian linen-rayon, in greenish blue for summer.

Back home, I swatched all my new acquisitions, measured the yardage–as little as 3 yards and as much as 12–and started pulling buttons for possible matches to inspire new projects.

9 1/2 yards of linen for summer blouses and a dress.

9 1/2 yards of linen for summer blouses and a dress.

The next round of fun was about to begin.

The newest members of the stash.

The newest members of the stash.

Project: Vogue 4036 Jacket, (1959), Part 2

Readers,

Before cutting into my wool-synthetic blend for this jacket I knew I’d have to tame its ravelly nature.

My ravelly fabric, backlit using my old lightbox.

My ravelly fabric, backlit using my old lightbox. Now you can clearly see how loosely woven it is.

I went to the Threads magazine website looking for help, and found it quickly in a post by Kenneth King called “A Trick for Working with Raw Silk.”

I’ve had the experience–okay, frustration–in the past of distorting raw edges of pattern pieces when I’ve overcast them. With Kenneth’s method both the distortion and the frustration are avoidable.

See the link for Kenneth’s instructions in words and pictures. Here’s what I did.

I traced off the upper collar pattern piece so it would not have to be laid on a fold. I laid out the plaid in a single layer and used a carpenter's square to square up the plaid.

I traced off the upper collar pattern piece so it would not have to be laid on a fold. I laid out the plaid in a single layer and used a carpenter’s square to square up the plaid.

Because I laid out the fabric in a single layer rather than double, I basted next to the pattern piece without the large thread loops Kenneth King called for.

Because I laid out the fabric in a single layer rather than double, I basted next to the pattern piece without the large thread loops Kenneth King called for.

I cut about 1 inch away from the thread-marked edges. Just estimate--the excess will be trimmed soon.

I cut about 1 inch away from the thread-marked edges. Just estimate–the excess will be trimmed soon.

The upper collar with the barely discernible contrast blue thread basting.

The upper collar with the barely discernible contrast blue thread basting.

The basting is right on the cutting line of the pattern piece.

The basting is right on the cutting line of the pattern piece.

I stitched a small zigzag over the basting.

I stitched a small zigzag over the basting.

The zigzagged basting. Now the upper collar is ready to be trimmed to size.

The zigzagged basting. Now the upper collar is ready to be trimmed to size.

I trimmed closely to the zigzagging without trimming it away.

I trimmed closely to the zigzagging without trimming it away.

The trimmed upper collar. No raveling, no tears!

The trimmed upper collar. No raveling, no tears!

What a nifty technique! Thank you, Kenneth King! I’ll zigzag and trim all the rest of my pattern pieces the same way.

I laid this collar piece around my neck to get a sense of its size, since I was a little concerned about that. Even with the seam allowances, though, it’s not overly big. I think it will do just fine.

The collar size is just fine.

The collar size is just fine.

Bolts from the Blue

Readers,

It started early yesterday morning when I was checking out the latest conversations on PatternReview.com. “What Minnesota PR members will I see Saturday morning at the Guthrie Theater Fabric and Trim sale?” asked SewMN. “It’s on Saturday, October 19, from 9 am to 1 pm at the Guthrie Theater.”

Fishing for fabric: catches of the day.

Fishing for fabric: catches of the day.

This was news to me. We live only a short, scenic drive from the Guthrie. How could I not go? At 8:58 am I was about twentieth in line for the sale.

Since settling in at the Jean Nouvel-designed, three-stage Guthrie Theater complex the costume shop had been acquiring fabric until every storage space was crammed. It was time to clean house. Hundreds of fabrics rolled on tubes or tied in bundles had colored price tags indicating $20, $10, $5, or $1.

My new purchases, taking it easy in our back yard.

My new purchases, taking it easy in our back yard.

Fabric rummage sales are certainly exciting, but I’ve bought my share of “bargains” that sat in my stash. A few years ago I bought some beautiful wool at such a sale with the department store credit card receipt, dated 1983, tucked into the folds. Guess what–I ended up donating it back to the same annual sale a few years later.

The mint green wool matches shades on the Yellow-Green card of the 3-in-1 Color Tool.

The mint green wool matches shades on the Yellow-Green card of the 3-in-1 Color Tool.

Having learned some lessons editing my fabric stash earlier this year, I’ve wised up about what I allow in. My fabrics can’t be prima donnas. They must play well with each other and with my wardrobe.

The gray in the fabric matches a tone on the Orange card. That explains why I like this gray, unlike many others.

The gray in the fabric matches a tone on the Orange card. That explains why I like this gray, unlike many others.

After circling the remnant-laden banquet tables a couple of times, I scooped up a perky, loosely woven gray and white checked wool and a mint green wool with milk-chocolate brown flecks in it. They both said “early spring suit” to me.

I brought my bolts over to the window to examine their colors in the natural light. Another sewer was clutching half a dozen fabrics rolled on tubes. One grabbed my attention: a wool in the mossy greens that go with my eye color so well.

The mossy green wool relates best to colors on the Yellow card.

The mossy green wool relates best to colors on the Yellow card.

I must have looked especially covetous or else she was feeling extra generous in that moment. After I admired her choice, she asked if I wanted it. I protested feebly.  She said, “I don’t have a plan for it. You know what you’d do with it.” I had to agree.  She said, “If I handed it over to you, would you take it?” She had me there. Yes! Of course!

Which is how I ended up in the checkout line with three fabric pieces of unknown lengths totaling $50.  Each of them, it turns out, is about 58 inches wide and  3 1/3 yards, which is plenty for a couple of garments each.

Could these buttons work with the "mint chocolate" fabric?

Could these buttons work with the “mint chocolate” fabric?

Now, I know my tendency to attach colorful stories to my fabric purchases. I don’t want or need to change that habit. What I’m doing differently now is imagining possibilities more fully–continuing the story of each fabric through the planning, construction, and wearing stages.

Can these buttons hold their own against this background?

Can these buttons hold their own against this background?

When I brought these beauties home I looked at what buttons, patterns and wardrobe items could go with them. Even though I didn’t see any dazzling button-fabric combinations, the gears started turning, and that’s enough for now.

When I saw this fabric, this pattern came to mind immediately.

When I saw this fabric, this 1962 pattern came to mind immediately.

I think there are some winning pattern-fabric combinations, though. The moment I saw the checked fabric I was thinking about this 1962 jacket with detachable scarf. This fabric has some loft to it, which would be great for the scarf. It is also very ravelly. I’ll learn how to work with this characteristic.

From 1956, ladylike jackets. Check out that bow on the back!

From 1956, ladylike jackets. Check out that bow on the back!

The mint green, brown-flecked wool has the warmth needed for the end of winter and the colors of early spring. One of these 1956 jackets could be delightful to wear in March or April.

From 1959, a smart jacket for the moss-colored wool

From 1959, a smart jacket for the moss-colored wool

The mossy green wool is not a coat weight, but has a little more body than many jackets need. I found this 1959 pattern for a between-kind of jacket:  warm enough to be a light coat in cool weather, yet light enough to wear indoors, too.  I’ve admired this pattern for years and have another fabric in mind for it. The mossy wool could be my practice piece before I cut into the more unusual fabric I have ultimately in mind.

On the back deck before rain and hail chased my photo shoot indoors.

On the back deck before rain and hail chased my photo shoot indoors.

These serendipitous finds have fired up my imagination. It really wouldn’t take that much more planning to turn them into living, breathing garments.

Would it?

Why not make it so?

The hail pellets were the size of pretzel salt. The photo shoot continued indoors.

The hail pellets were the size of pretzel salt. The photo shoot continued indoors.

Temperamental Journey

Readers,

It’s late August, the Minnesota State Fair is underway, and tomorrow’s forecast is for the upper 90s. But my mind has turned to sewing for fall.

Tomorrow I’ll leave on a ten-day trip to Ohio and New York. By the time I get back to the sewing domain, it will be after Labor Day. I’ll ride out any remaining summer-like weather with my present wardrobe.

Onward to the many months of cool and cold weather where I live, where it’s worth building tailoring skills to turn out wonderful jackets, trousers and coats in wool.

My fabric table at the annual Textile Center fabric garage sale, wearing a coat I made.

Wearing a coat I made, at my favorite table at the annual Textile Center fabric garage sale.

I love woolens. Horse blanket plaids, Harris tweeds, cashmere blends, crepes, flannels, houndstooths, herringbones and pinstripes–all inspire me. I have the wool stash to prove it, too.  I have pieces from sewing expo vendors; Textile Center fabric garage sales; travels to Chicago, Washington, New York and San Francisco; and local stores. In fact, my wools comprise the bulk of my fabric stash in more ways than one.

One might conclude that so much wool would afford me a lot of freedom in pattern-selecting and -sewing, but to tell the truth, I’ve become overly possessive of my precious yardage. Like the wine connoisseur who never finds just the right occasion to open that special vintage, I loathe cutting into particular fabrics even though I long to wear them!

A souvenir from my travels that's waiting to be transformed into a jacket.

A souvenir from my travels that’s waiting to be transformed into a jacket.

A ridiculous and self-defeating attitude, I know, which I’m determined to conquer.

Actually, conquering is the wrong approach.  Working with my temperament–not browbeating it into submission, which will only make it rebel–is the way to go.

This is waiting in the wings to be a jacket or coat.

This is waiting in the wings to be a jacket or coat.

It occurred to me that once again, the battery of tests I took at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation almost three years ago offers an invaluable insight that will form the basis of the solution.

My scores in divergent thinking were high. I have a rapid flow of ideas (nobody said they were good ideas, by the way) and a fair amount of foresight. My favorite way of starting a sentence is with the words “I could…”  I like possibilities and alternatives. I am what author Barbara Sher calls a “scanner:” someone who wants to do many, many things.

On the other hand, my scores in convergent thinking were very low. And I do find it difficult to draw conclusions or commit to plans of action without a lot of deliberation.

Will I EVER make up my mind?

Will I EVER make up my mind?

Hence, in spite of quite a few finished projects, the nagging stashes of unused fabrics, patterns and buttons that alternately tempt and taunt me.

So, what’s the solution?

I have an idea. How about leveraging someone else’s convergent thinking? Such thinking must acknowledge my liking for possibilities and alternatives but move me toward producing results.

I came across such thinking a couple of years ago in a book by image consultant Brenda Kinsel called In the Dressing Room With Brenda: A Fun and Practical Guide to Buying Smart and Looking Great. In that book she describes having a great wardrobe through planning outfits, or “capsules.” Individual garments and accessories can be combined in various ways to create capsules to suit every occasion and need. Kinsel then gives several examples including the Jean Capsule, the Traditional Work Capsule, the Accessory Capsule, and more.

A jacket I made that needs more coordinates.  (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

A jacket I made that needs more coordinates. (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

A simple concept, granted, and yet rarely put into practice. I myself have labored over numerous tailored jackets only to relegate them to the closet most of the time. I didn’t make the most of my efforts by planning capsules around them.

Well, that’s going to change. Brenda Kinsel’s idea of capsules is a gift to this divergent thinker, offering a balance of creative limits and creative possibilities.

I’m going to test this capsule concept, along with my chart, in the coming months. It’s not enough to produce individual garments. The next step is to make wonderful, functional combinations with them–and then take those combinations out for a spin.

After all, getting things sewn is just the prelude to getting things worn.