On New Year’s Day 2018 I wrote about the wonderful calendar my sister Cynthia, a professional photographer, had created for our sister Donna. It was filled with gorgeous pictures of glass, jewelry, and beautifully designed everyday objects Donna stocks in her Etsy store, Timmees. When I saw that calendar I immediately wanted a calendar of my own for 2019.
And I got it!
Here it is:
January: Some of my vintage buttons, set off by colorful Fiestaware plates, spelling out the initials of Getting Things Sewn.
February: From a post from 2013, featuring a handcrafted scarf that looked wonderful in the store but not so great on me. I never got the hang of wearing it.
March: Some of my vintage buttons, many of which I bought at vintage fashion fairs or the Portobello Road market in London.
April: Fun with thought balloons: “Paula with her thinking cap on…’I wonder what I’ll do today…Maybe I’ll go through my stash…or maybe I’ll finish that jacket I’ve been putting off…!”
May: Vintage buttons and my favorite freebies–paint store samples.
June: Two jackets I sewed from McCall 4065: the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket” from 1941. I used this same pattern to teach myself Kenneth King’s tailoring techniques in a big project in 2015.
November: Posing in my sewing room with my mannequin, Ginger, who is wearing the jacket you see on my homepage.
And December: I’m wearing the wearable test of a swing coat pattern from, I think, 1950. Either I was waiting for Cynthia to finish testing her lighting setup or she had given me a prompt and I was wondering what to do. Professional models, your jobs are safe!
This calendar was a wonderful gift and a great compliment to me that took a lot of time and thought to produce. Cynthia dipped into her photo archive but also set up new shots. I got to see not only my work in print but also Cynthia’s work. That made this calendar even more special.
The 2019 Getting Things Sewn calendar has reminded where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.
Those two jackets, sewn about fifteen years ago, represent a watershed moment in my tailoring skills–but 27″ is much too long for my 5″ 1″ height. Sadly, these jackets are wardrobe orphans.
That swing coat is too full and long for me and the patch pockets are too big and placed too low. A couple of years after that photo was taken, I brought the coat to a patternmaking teacher who took the excess fullness out of the pattern while retaining the swingy feel, scaled to my proportions. The revised pattern awaits testing.
My striped linen blouse is nicely sewn, but now I see how cool and light colors should not be the basis for my wardrobe. Warm, deep colors are better on me.
As I look ahead to a 2020 calendar I’m thinking about what would be very satisfying to see represented. Beautiful outfits? Rooms graced by home dec sewing successes? An improved sewing room with a project in progress? All sound good.
A calendar can be a good way to reflect on past accomplishments and also provide inspiration for the coming year.
I’ll pop into a clothing store and, after checking out the shoes and accessories, browse the racks, admittedly without enthusiasm.
The usual comments run through my mind like a news crawl:
Too big. Wrong color. Too trendy. Boring. Huge armholes! What is this weird fabric? They want how much for this?
Minutes later I’ll walk out, shaking my head.
Then Jack and I will have our usual conversation:
“I’m glad I sew!”
My latest “I’m glad I sew!” moment came last Friday morning when I accompanied my sister on a jaunt to the salvage store and outlet store of a famous outdoorsy clothing brand searching for plain, black, rugged, classic shorts for her. Oh, and with back pockets . That’s not asking for too much, right?
Wrong. Nothing ticked all these basic boxes.
We moved on to a discount department store chain, where she fared somewhat better. We left that store with two pairs of shorts, with a top thrown in for good measure. But the purchases were not made with any sense of satisfaction, let alone excitement.
The faces of the women I saw entering and exiting the fitting rooms expressed a grim reality : depending on ready-to-wear to meet all your wardrobe needs is an iffy proposition. And pretty much forget about meeting your wardrobe dreams.
It was already on my to-do list to sew pants and shorts for my sister once we’d gotten a pattern fitted for her, but after that morning’s rounds I was downright adamant. Having clothes that dependably fit and flatter despite the vagaries of fashion isn’t just a wardrobe upgrade–it’s a life upgrade.
Being able to sew my own clothes has given me a sense of agency that being a ready-to-wear shopper never did and never will. Even though I still don’t have a full complement of sewing skills or a core collection of fitted patterns (both of which I am actively working toward) I’m still benefiting greatly from what I do know how to do.
If you sew, I think again you’ll know what I mean. Sewing is not just the production of a tangible result: a garment, draperies, a tent. It’s a process of aesthetic and technical judgment calls that is often profoundly satisfying.
I remember years ago as a pastry intern at the Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco saying to the head pastry chef, “Now I see what your job is all day long: making decisions,” and he agreed. Cooking and baking from scratch, as well as sewing from scratch, are processes that depend on a body of knowledge that can be very rewarding to build over a lifetime.
That Friday afternoon was about as different an experience as possible from my morning of rummaging through dozens of rumpled pairs of pants and shorts piled in bins at the salvage store. I spent it in my sewing room, mulling over which color stripes I wanted to accentuate in the blouse I was going to sew.
I made “preview windows” of the front, back, collar, and collar band pattern pieces to help me imagine my blouse before I made a single cut into the fabric.
I had already sewn Vogue 8772 many times before, and the fit and construction were close to perfect. Now I could concentrate on how I could play up certain colors and contrast to flatter my own coloring and contrast.
I pulled colors from my palette to consider for sewing coordinating skirts, jackets, cardigans, and pants.
I thought about buttons. The best ones I had were kind of purplish-pinkish-grayish imitation mother-of-pearl. They decided me on placing the purple and pink stripes at the right center front.
What color should the buttonholes be?
This was an unbalanced stripe, which made me think about whether I wanted to have the stripe pattern on the two fronts as mirror images or have the stripe continue in one direction around the body. The back was one piece cut on the fold. I could have made the back with a center seam and done mirror images on the back, too, allowing me match the stripes at the shoulder seam, which would have been a cool effect.
Do I want the prominent stripes positioned like this?
Or have the stripes like this?
I didn’t think about that at the time, and even if I had, I might have been too lazy to do the extra work of matching.
The whole afternoon I moved at the placid pace of fish in a dentist’s aquarium, shifting my preview windows around and contemplating various possibilities.
Finally, I cut the right front. That dictated the cut of the left front.
Then I decided where to place the prominent color bars on the back.
Later, I pondered the colors I wanted on the collar, right next to my face. I cut the collar. Then the band. (Armhole facings, too, but I didn’t do any matching.)
Over the next few days I sewed the blouse. Tuesday evening I sewed on the last button.
I like my new blouse.
On a different day I may have chosen differently. I could have put a green stripe on center front and looked for green buttons, or matched the shoulder seams, or done some other effect. But I’m happy with what I did.
I’m happy not just with the result, but with this absorbing process.
This New Year’s Day morning, like millions of other people, I hung a new calendar. This one is so special I just had to tell you about it.
This wonderful calendar is the joint effort of my sisters Cynthia and Donna. Donna is the owner of the Etsy store Timmees, and Cynthia is the photographer. Timmee is this whimsically designed tea kettle that has a determined air that reminds me of The Little Engine That Could.
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”
All the pictures in the Timmees calendar are of objects Donna has uncovered in her thrift-store sleuthing and put up for sale in her online store.
Like a Gold Rush miner, she has to pan tons of gravel to find valuable nuggets like this vintage hand mixer–
–or these cherry-red Bakelite earrings.
When Donna uncovers these treasures, they’re often dirty, and their identity and value have gone unrecognized for maybe decades.
After she’s brought these precious objects home, there’s still the work of cleaning them and researching their backgrounds to write the copy for the Etsy store.
Then there’s the product photography.
How ever do you bring out the character of each of these objects to convey their charm and beauty to customers around the world? That’s Cynthia’s job assignment.
Every medium–glass, ceramics, beaded purses, metal or Bakelite jewelry–poses different challenges in lighting and composition more than I could ever imagine.
Cynthia has to represent each object both honestly–nicks, scratches, and all–but also strives to express more qualities. Like the heft of September’s vintage stapler.
Or how a yellow Bakelite necklace can suggest the glow of Halloween pumpkins.
When I unwrapped my copy of the Timmees 2018 calendar on Christmas Day I silently admired all the skill and workmanship that went into the making of it.
But what I said out loud, immediately was “I want my own calendar for 2019!”
How great would it be to page through a calendar with photos of beautiful garments I sewed in 2018? Pretty great, I thought.
So as I start the Ready to Wear Fast year-long sewing challenge I’ll be thinking about the calendar I could hold in my hands a year from now–if I stay the course.
Inspiration and motivation come in many forms, and one of them, it turns out, is a calendar.
A very sad valance accompanying spindly mini-blinds in the kitchen of our 1958 house when we bought it.
The sad valance is gone, thankfully–but what window treatment would be best? Not a lace cafe curtain, that’s for sure.
Got a minute? I’ll tell you.
I’m a fabric person, so I wasn’t thrilled to conclude that the best window treatment for our kitchen was a blind. Not floor-length draperies (obviously), or little cafe curtains, which would leave too much hard, dark, shiny window glass exposed before sunrise and after sunset when days are short.
No, for what we wanted–to be able to watch the passing neighborhood scene or shut it out, according to inclination–a blind was just the thing. Back in February I called the blind and curtain company Smith & Noble to send a designer over. She walked me through the whole process of choosing the widths and colors of slats and twill tape, did the measuring and the ordering, and in a couple of weeks our blind was installed. It looked and worked great.
I lived with the blind very happily, but it wasn’t long before I returned to the matter of adding more colors, patterns, and shapes by way of fabric into the view of our kitchen window wall. I knew which fabric I wanted to use, too: a printed cotton from the legendary French fabric producer Souleiado.If you have ever seen Pierre Deux’s French Country: A Style and Source Book you may recall the gorgeous fabrics chapter showcasing Souleiado.
My well-thumbed copy, which I bought in 1985.
I had found this faded but still vibrant Provencal print at my favorite store in the world, Grandview Mercantile (right here in Columbus, Ohio), covering a little homemade comforter. I was immediately taken by the unusual combination of mustardy yellow, spicy brown, and vivid turquoise balanced by a terracotta pink. These weren’t conventionally pretty colors, but I found them arresting. I bought the little comforter for $35.
Months later, I took out my seam ripper and carefully undid the stitching of the comforter. That’s when I discovered this enchanting pattern was made by Souleiado. That was as exciting for me as it would be for someone else discovering that a lamp picked up at a garage sale was made by Tiffany.
I wanted to use this fabric where I could enjoy it every day, but I didn’t want to ruin it. That was a quandary so familiar to me as a clothing sewer: longing to use a fabric but fearing cutting into it before being certain the fit and the style of the garment were right.
How could I get to the point of being brave enough to cut into my precious, perhaps irreplaceable, fabric?
I thought, okay–I’ll just have to do a lot of mockups. Instead of thinking I would never know enough to be able to cut into my fabric, I thought about how many easy, cheap or free, reversible experiments I could run.
How about tracing the outlines of the kitchen window wall from a photo? After I did, I thought, “Everything but the faucet is a right angle! I want to mix in some curves!”
Here’s the photo…
…and here’s the tracing. It was when I traced the basic outlines of the wall that I noticed they were all right angles. How about adding some curves to this view?
Paper is cheap. How about testing shapes and sizes of valances in paper?
Better yet, how about color-photocopying my fabric at our local library for 50 cents a sheet? Tape the pages together and hang them to get a sense of the impact of the colors and patterns mixed with the existing colors and patterns on the window wall?
I also thought to try finding more of this fabric and set up a daily search on the word “Souleiado” on eBay. After a couple of months, a three-yard piece turned up, in perfect condition–a very lucky find.
I set up a Pinterest board to collect valance and cornice pictures. (I mostly found designs I didn‘t want.)
I used a scrap of the furring strip to balance the staple gun. Jack held the mount steady while I stapled down the Velcro.
I wanted a valance I knew could be machine-washed if it got dusty and dull-looking. That definitely meant I had to create my own construction plan to guarantee washability. But the instructions for the Zigzag Pelmet/Valance from the book Curtains and Blinds by Lucinda Ganderton and Ali Watkinson turned out to be very helpful.
I had two main questions to answer about the shape of this valance: the depth, and the bottom edge. I studied pictures to get a sense of what looked proportionate–not skimpy, and not like a hat that’s too big for its wearer. Then I tried paper mockups.
The mount was attached to the wall with angle irons.
I realized after trying out some curves in paper mockups that determining the right size is not as easy as it seems. It was only after studying the print for awhile that I noticed the unbroken lengthwise curve that supplied the obvious shape of the border. I cut my photocopy along the curve–another cheap, easy, risk-free test–and had my answer.
On the taped-together photocopies I cut along the curve in the print. Would this curve make a nice border? Yes.
A closeup of the mount
The lining for the valance was another question. It had to be machine-washable and the right weight and drape. In my stash was a white cotton flannel sheet I had been saving for interlining coats that turned out to work very well.
All during this project I wished I could get a few minutes’ input from a designer for aesthetic guidance and from a window furnishings maker about construction techniques. That would have boosted my confidence and saved me time.
My idea of using separate pieces of Velcro for the returns helped to create crisp turns around the corners.
Instead, I dithered about the size and shape of the valance, questioned the completeness and accuracy of the instructions I was more or less following, and worried about drilling holes in the wall in addition to worrying about chopping into my fabric.
I had a lengthy conversation with the hardware store clerk about the right size of angle irons and wall anchors to buy as well as the dimensions of the furring strip for the valance mount.
The instructions I used did not call for pressing in a crease at the turns. A crease gave a much better look than the original floppy ends.
In the absence of professional advice I did learn a lot along the way, and I applied knowledge from curtain- and garment-making to create a pretty nicely finished, proportionate–machine-washable, even!–valance from a beautiful fabric.
Monday afternoon I finished the stitching and pressing, and Jack installed the valance on its Velcro’ed mount.
The lining can be glimpsed from the front, so I’m glad the flannel I used didn’t have a cute print!
What works, what doesn’t?
What works is, I’m satisfied with the construction. With my level of knowledge as a home sewer of mostly garments, I don’t think I could have done better.
What doesn’t work? The best way I can put it is, I think this burst of color, shape and pattern will work better when the eye can travel around the room and pick up on other bursts of colors, shapes, and patterns that will set up an intriguing rhythm.
Putting objects in a room is just the first step. Creating relationships among the objects is where a lot of the fun is going to be. I have more of this beautiful print and am thinking about how I can use it to delight the eye.
Last summer I discovered the most wonderful old trade journal, and I’ve been wanting to go back and look at it ever since. It’s called American Fabrics. Have you heard of it?
An advertisement from a woolens manufacturer–with real swatches.
Well, I hadn’t till I was doing research last year for “Sewing Destination: Twin Cities,” which came out in the February-March 2014 issue of Threads magazine. That article was a roundup of places and events in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota of interest to lovers of sewing and fashion.
Detail of an advertisement for Sunbak: rayon satin backed with wool.
I had put the American Craft Council library on my list of places to check out because, having been a librarian myself for 22 years, I knew there had to be wonderful resources begging to be better known and used–things that may never, ever get digitized–that sewers and fashion lovers would be thrilled to learn about.
After the movie star glamour of the satin robe…
When librarian Jessica Shaykett showed me the complete set of American Fabrics (later titled American Fabrics and Fashions), published from 1947 to 1986, I knew my search was over. I was so glad Threads let me include this fascinating time capsule in my article.
…is a style that’s as sleek and modern as anything you’ll see today. (Note the fabric swatch at the top.)
Earlier this week I finally made my return visit to this library, which is open to the public, to browse the bound volumes and give readers a taste of American Fabrics that the article’s limited space prevented me from providing.
Penny and Loretta, office dogs and unofficial mascots of the American Craft Council, greeted me.
I naively thought I could look through the set in one morning, take representative photos, and be on my way by lunch. Ha! In an hour and a half I’d gotten through only the first three issues, published quarterly starting in 1946.
I love the graphics of these garment labels. A fabric mill is boasting of the many garment lines using its products.
The trade journal continued to 1986 (changing its name along the way to American Fabrics and Fashions), so I have a long way to go. Judging from issue numbers 1, 2, and 3, that’s good news.
Detail. The wonderful design that used to go into labels!
Paging through American Fabrics, Number 1 (from which all of these illustrations were taken), I couldn’t help wondering about the state of the textile industry in the U.S. following World War II and what happened to it.
The hope and optimism of postwar America.
For a moment I was both tantalized and daunted by the prospect of learning about the history of the US and world post-war economy and globalization in the context of the textile industry…or was it the textile industry in the context of the US and world economic…whatever…
And then I came to my senses.
I just wanted to page through American Fabrics Number 1 and let the images and words speak for themselves.
When did poodles become fashionable? And what is going through that boxer’s mind?
I wanted to notice word choice and writing styles.
This informative column could have been deadly dull…
…but it had me at “lamb-chop.”
This table of contents sounds downright literary.
I wanted to notice snapshots in time…
…and be surprised by something being around longer than I had realized.
And I thought the word “imagineer” was a recent invention.
I wanted to look at graphic styles, too.
Tools of fabric design and production, beautifully rendered
And of course, I wanted to look at the fashions.
A big, boxy coat of the late ’40s.
Yes, those are pineapples on his swimming trunks.
After this first taste of American Fabrics, I’m hooked. My ambition is to page through every volume and fill up my sensory banks with words and graphics, year by year, fabric swatch by fabric swatch. Along the way, who knows what I’ll soak up?
Just you wait and see, lamb-chop.
Loretta says “Thanks for stopping by–come back soon!”
(Note: Complete and broken sets of American Fabrics are available in hundreds of libraries in addition to the American Craft Council library in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ask your librarian to help you find them.
(Thanks to humans Jessica Shaykett and Alanna Nissen and corgis Penny and Loretta of the American Craft Council for their help and encouragement.)