Shedding Light on My Beautiful French Sign

Readers,

About 25 years ago, when I was living in Minneapolis,  I happened upon an object in the window of a little antiques store in St. Paul that stopped me in my tracks.  It was this sign:

Seen in daytime

It was love at first sight, and I was immediately seized with the desire to own it.  Two hundred dollars later, it was mine.

I couldn’t have been more ecstatic if I’d found it in a Paris flea market, where I bet the asking price would have been considerably more and the headaches of shipping turning me away sadly empty-handed.

The reflective qualities come out with dramatic lighting.

Instead, happily, I am the proud owner of this beautiful, but mysterious, sign.

About its origin I never got more than a vague answer from the store owner: from France and made in the 1920s.  But Quebec seems more likely to me, just because it’s closer with no pesky ocean in between.

The lettering, visual textures, and contrasts suggest 1930s films to me.

I’d long intended to delve into the meaning of each word.  I finally got around to this task just this past weekend, when I posed my question to the readers of Pattern Review with a thread I called “French Speakers: Translate My French Sign!”  Did they ever, with comments coming from France and Canada as well as the US.

The consensus was:

Bonneterie:  Knit apparel including hosiery, underwear, and lingerie

Mercerie: Sewing supplies

I love the addition of the red lines.

Tissus Confection:   Dressmaking fabrics

Couture Mesure:  Made-to-measure dressmaking

When was the last time you saw a business offering all of these wonderful goods and services in one place?  Such a place is a rarity today if it exists at all.  When this sign was in use I think it represented something as unremarkable in its time as a hardware store or grocery store is today.

I love not only the references to the goods and services this sign proclaims but the weatherbeaten, everyday artistry of the sign itself.  It appears to be two layers of reverse-painted glass sandwiching a ribbed reflective surface to catch the eye especially on gloomy, overcast days and at night.

Imagining looking up at it at night.

I brought the sign to my sister Cynthia’s studio and she experimented with lighting and backdrops to elicit an atmosphere that had me thinking of noir movies.  Who knows–maybe Philip Marlowe picked up his “black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them” at this very shop.

Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand, Photographer for conveying the romance, mystery, and wistfulness of this sign.

The Getting Things Sewn 2019 Calendar

Readers,

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.

July: More fun with vintage buttons.

 

August: Making the case that the shirts I sewed for Jack and me were not the same.

September: My field trip to The Alley Vintage and Costume in 2015.

October: The prop in the shoot of the mint-colored flannel pajamas I made in 2016 sports my favorite dog breed.

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.

All Projects Great and Small: Creating a Task Analysis Tool

Readers,

There are few things I love more than having a good project. I love projects with the keenness of Fame(US), the border collie who won the Westminster Kennel Club agility championship recently:

Maybe I was a border collie in a previous life.

But despite my love for projects–sewing and other kinds–I don’t have a stellar track record for completing them–hence my reading books like Finish, by Jon Acuff, for insights.

And now I’m working my way through The Productivity Project, by Chris Bailey, in the hopes of picking up pointers from someone who spent a whole year devoted singlemindedly to the pursuit of, basically, project management.

My project management has had less in common with Fame(US) the border collie and more with Olly the Jack Russell terrier at Crufts last year: excited but prone to distraction:

But recently I came up with a new tool for myself that just may advance me in the project agility class.

I was noodling around with my favorite tool–a mind map– while I was waiting for the dryer repairman to call and then show up the other morning.  While I had one ear cocked for the phone and then for the knock on the door I wanted to answer this pressing question:

How come some of my projects get done, some get only half-done, and some are never started even though they retain a tantalizing glow of possibility?

So, what is a project, anyway? I asked myself. I started listing every aspects of a task–a single unit of a project–that I could think of.

Take space, for instance.  Every task requires space.  But different tasks have different space requirements:

Space

  • Amount needed
    • A lot
    • Not very much
  • Type needed
    • Work surface
      • Floor space
      • Tabletop space
    • Clean work or messy work
      • Clean work
        • Sewing room
      • Messy work
        • Workshop
        • Garage
  • Fixed location or movable location
    • Fixed
      • Example: cleaning the fridge can be done in only one place
    • Movable:
      • Example: sorting papers can be done in several places
  • Amount of time the space is needed
  • Amount of disruption while the space is used
  • Amount and type of lighting needed: task lighting? Natural light?

And then there’s time:

Time

  • Can the task be done all in one go, quickly?
  • Must it be done all in one go and take a long time? (I was thinking about writing posts, there.)
  • Can the task be broken into several sessions?
    • Example: organizing papers over a few afternoons
  • Does the task have to be broken down into several sessions?
    • Example: painting furniture and waiting for each coat to dry

Wow–this was interesting.  I continued:

  • Can the task be done entirely at home or do parts have to be done elsewhere?
  • Is the task limited to a certain season or weather condition?
  • Frequency:
    • Once and it’s done
    • Frequently
      • And that’s okay
      • But it’s a pain
    • Once in a while
  • Does the task require wearing certain clothes?
    • Messy work–yes
    • Clean work–no
  • Is the task highly related to other tasks?
    • Highly related: needs to be coordinated, maybe in a sequence
    • Not highly related: coordination not necessary; little or no sequencing
  • Batching:
    • Can the task be batched with other tasks?
    • Is there an advantage?
      • Save time
      • Keep momentum up
      • Get more done on one errand run

So far I’d captured objective, quantifiable aspects of tasks and projects.  But what do various tasks require of me?

How about:

Attention level

  • Can it be done with low attention
    • and I could listen to a Craftsy class or a radio talk show in the background?
      • Example: ironing
  • Does it have to be done with high attention
    • and I could listen to instrumental music or opera in the background?
      • Example: writing

Energy level

  • Requires high energy
    • Example: major painting projects
  • Doesn’t require high energy
    • Example: filing papers

Skills

  • Do I have the skills for this task?
    • If so, do I want to use my skills for this task?
    • Do I have
      • the time?
      • the experience?
      • the equipment and supplies
      • the instructional resources?
      • the motivation?
    • If I have the skill, will the task or project put me right at the edge of my present abilities–my challenge edge?
    • If I need to learn the skill
      • Do I have the resources already? Do I need to budget for resources?
        • equipment
        • tools
        • supplies
        • instruction sources
          • online, print, or in person?
          • individual feedback necessary?
        • time
          • to learn, including making mistakes
          • to perform the actual task
        • space
        • money
      • Do I have the motivation, interest, desire?
      • Do I have the aptitudes?

Can I (or must I) do it all myself?

  • I can (because I have the skills and resources)
  • I must (because nobody else knows what I want to accomplish)

Will I need or want help with this?

  • A helping hand from a friend or relative
  • Expert help
    • Repair people, installers
    • Knowledgeable salespeople
    • Designers
    • Pickup and delivery people

Now for a big aspect of task and project management: what repels me:

Aversion level

  • Does the task involve things or activities I loathe?
    • Dealing with electronics
      • computers and software
      • computerized equipment (like sergers)
      • smartphones
      • TV remotes
    • Driving
    • Shopping in stores with
      • bad music (I’m talkin’ ’bout you, Jo-Ann Fabrics!)
      • ugly merchandise or displays
      • unhelpful salespeople
    • Using aptitudes I’m low in
      • structural visualization, which is a must for patternmakers
    • Feeling I’m imposing on others
    • Making phone calls (sometimes)
    • Decisionmaking
      • When I don’t have reliable advice
      • When I haven’t defined
        • the problems
        • the solutions
        • my vision
        • criteria

On the other hand, what draws me in?

Fun level

  • This task or project lets me work with my favorite:
    • Aptitudes
      • dexterity
      • memory for design
      • verbal abilities
    • Skills
      • organizing
      • planning
      • cleaning
      • sewing
      • cooking
      • writing
      • research
    • Equipment and tools
      • Sewing equipment and tools
      • Cooking appliances and tools
      • Mind-mapping tools
    • Supplies
      • Office supplies
        • Mechanical pencils, colored pencils
        • Labeler
        • Graph paper, tracing paper
        • Rulers
      • Paint
      • Fabric
      • Food
    • People
      • Individuals
      • Types of skilled people
  • This task lets me produce my favorite results:
    • Painted surfaces
    • Sewn items
    • Food
    • Organized spaces or plans
    • Blog posts

I thought of still other factors: Consequences, Aggravations, and Rewards:

  • The consequences of not doing the task:
    • How bad would they be?
      • Increased risk
      • Compromised quality or safety
    • How soon would they occur?
      • Soon
      • Not soon
    • How certain would they be?
      • Certain
      • Not certain
  • The aggravations related to the task remaining undone:
    • Inconvenience
      • Size
      • Frequency
    • Embarrassment
      • Size
      • Frequency
    • A feeling that something is off, (like a paint color or a floor plan):
      • Size
      • Frequency
  • The rewards I could experience if I do the task or project:
    • Creating or adding functionality, beauty, or enjoyment
      • How great an increase?
        • Dramatic
        • Small, but
          • Still noticeable
          • Cumulative
      • How frequently would the reward be experienced?
        • Every time I see or use the improved thing
        • Once or twice; then I’d be used to the improvement
    • Eliminating or reducing pain or worry
      • How great a reduction?
      • How frequently is the relief felt?
    • Creating a positive trajectory
      • What advantages might compound?
      • What opportunities might open up?
  • What could I miss out on if I don’t succeed with this task or project?
    • Rewarding social connections
    • A higher level of skill
    • The ability to accomplish more sophisticated tasks or projects that lie beyond my present ability
    • On the other hand, maybe nothing much

As I mind-mapped as many aspects of tasks as I could think of, I realized as never before how there are objective components–like space and light requirements–and subjective components–like what I avoid whenever I can, what aptitudinal weaknesses and strengths I’m working with, what I gravitate toward and find fun, and what I find rewarding.

Now I’m thinking that if I account simply for the objective components of a task, my work is only half done–and my task may very well remain discouragingly half-finished.  Without understanding all the subjective components–the ones that could sink the ship, and the ones that could be my life-preservers–my odds of succeeding are very small.

These days I am applying myself to fitting a pants pattern.  (Well, some days I am, and other days I’d rather do anything but.) So I was curious to test my rough draft of a tool on my pants-fitting project.  Here are the main insights I gained:

  • Fitting pants requires a high attention level.
  • This is difficult to achieve, because I have a low aptitude for a key skill needed: structural visualization.
  • The aversion level is high:
    • my low aptitude
    • trying to follow instructions I don’t understand
    • trying to decide what to do next when I’m not grasping a concept
  • My aversion level could definitely doom this project as it has doomed previous (admittedly halfhearted) attempts in the past.
  • The consequences of my not getting pants to fit? Low. I wouldn’t be breaking any promises, and the world doesn’t care. I have to be careful, however, not to let these thoughts sabotage my efforts.
  • The aggravation level if I don’t get a pants pattern to fit? High!
    • I’ll continue to wear pants that fit badly or not well in every way.
    • I will be frustrated not being able to sew as many great coordinates for my tops, jackets, and coats
    • I won’t get to design as many interesting outfits and capsules for my wardrobe
    • I’ll be subject to the vagaries of fashion: fit, color, style.
  • The rewards of having pants that fit? Also high!
    • Comfort
    • Style
    • A feeling of control over my wardrobe choices that I don’t have now
  • The fun level is something I need to leverage conscientiously:
    • Using my high aptitude of dexterity
    • Using my favorite skills of research, writing, organizing, planning, and sewing (if only muslins)
    • Using favorite supplies: mechanical pencils, fashion rulers, tracing paper
    • Enlisting help from Jack, to take snapshots, and Cynthia, to take studio shots, of me in muslins to analyze fit.
  • The time required will be many sessions of short duration–short, better to keep my aversions and aggravations in check.
  • My skill level in fitting is low, but I do understand some pattern-drafting and alteration, and pants construction will be a comparative breeze.

Interestingly, looking over the data I’d collected I wasn’t discouraged, and I can think of several reasons why.

One is that there have never been so many good learning tools for fitting pants, written by very experienced teachers, as now.  I own my share of them but only recently gave them the full attention they deserve. I have been viewing online classes and DVDs and reading books and articles by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto, Sarah Veblen, Sandra Betzina, Kenneth King, Joyce Murphy, Kathleen Cheetham, and others. I am gradually absorbing some fitting principles as I see different ways they are described and illustrated and test them in my muslins.

Another is that a pattern-drafting company, Fitography, got me closer to a good fit right from the start. I am fine-tuning the Chloe Pants pattern now.  Ideally, the pattern drafted from your measurements fits you perfectly the first time, but due probably to errors on my part that wasn’t the case. However, it was the prospect of a pattern drafted to my measurements and style and fit preferences that inspired me to take up the pants challenge again.

There definitely is a sizable gap between my abilities and knowledge and the well-fitting, flattering pattern I want. But I feel as if these fitting teachers are reaching out as far as they can on their end to close the gap. Judith Neukam has a new approach to pants-fitting in the April/May 2018 issue of Threads that looks really interesting.

My last reason for not feeling discouraged is I have important new insights into what it will realistically take for me to succeed in any project I undertake. Even if I have time, a well-lighted, well-equipped work space, and all the tools I need, my aversions can hold sway. It’s often easier to imagine the frustrations of failures than the satisfactions of success.  I’m seeing that success will not come without vividly imagining the rewards. I also have to incorporate my natural interests and strengths deliberately into my plans. I can even employ my aggravations on my behalf: Do I really want to keep shopping for ready-to-wear? No!

Some projects, it’s occurring to me, are just plain difficult. Other projects are difficult but have a benefit beyond the immediate result: they can be a gateway to a higher level of ability, creativity, and productivity. Fitting pants could be just such a gateway project for me.  I’m going to remind myself of that possibility, because I want to give myself the best chance to make that statement true.

Starting the New Year with a Calendar to Inspire

Readers,

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.

Wishing you a happy and productive New Year!

Do You Know About the Ready to Wear Fast?

Readers,

I was taking a brief break from Thanksgiving Day cooking when I saw an invitation in my e-mail. Sarah Gunn of the phenomenally successful sewing blog Goodbye Valentino was inviting her readers to join her in a year-long “ready to wear fast” starting January 1. The more I read about this challenge, the more my enthusiasm mounted. I headed back to the kitchen practically whistling a happy tune.

As Sarah explained,

The Ready to Wear Fast is a vow to abstain from buying clothes for one year. You will give up buying clothes from January 1-December 31, 2018. You may sew anything, and you may fabric-shop as much as you like! The purpose is to Save Money and Improve Your Sewing Skills, but believe me, the rewards of the commitment will exceed your expectations.”

The only exceptions to the clothes-buying rule will be wedding gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses. No sweaters, no swimsuits, no mother of the bride dresses, not even scarves can be bought during the year-long fast.

But when I read the restrictions I noticed I thought, good! This will give me that nudge to try sewing knit tops and cardigans like I’ve intended to do for years. The same with scarves, which have been my only frequent ready-to-wear purchases for years: it’s time I learned to do those fine hand-rolled hems on scarves I make myself, cut to the dimensions I choose.

And pants, which have been my sewing holy grail for years: I’ve made do with occasional ready-to-wear purchases that have tided me over but have hardly been figure-flatterers.

Sweaters!  Even those sized “XS” are often too long in the torso and sleeves and too big around. The armholes are huge, restricting range of movement for sleeved versions or exposing too much flesh in sleeveless versions. Color choices are limited to what garment industry experts chose based on color forecasts made many months earlier.

Skirts, blouses, dresses–I can count on the fingers of one hand how many I’ve bought readymade in the last decade. Either fit or style is an issue, and, again, color and pattern choices are limited.

As Jack can attest, I’ll pop into a retail or consignment store to check out shoes and hats and sometimes specialty outerwear, but when I browse regular clothes racks I almost always leave the store muttering, “I’m glad I sew!”

So I think I am 90 percent of the way to a ready-to-wear fast anyway. If a fast means deprivation I already feel deprived, that’s for sure.

But if deprivation and restriction characterize a fast, why do I feel so upbeat about the approach of January 1? Because what I see is a yearlong sewing feast.

Oh sure, the sponsors of the RTW Fast are sure to dangle some enticements–fabrics, online classes, patterns, maybe even a sewing machine–before those of us who took the pledge. But what I think will have me singing Zippety Doo Dah in 2018 will be the abundance of encouragement and inspiration we participants will be sharing on our private Facebook page to realize our wardrobe dreams.

I know it sounds crazy: I sew, but do I have a closet full of seasonal custom clothing capsules to create dozens of outfits? No! As a matter of fact, since I joined Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program four months ago I have drastically thinned out my wardrobe–including clothes I’ve sewn. Everything–my patterns, fabrics, wardrobe, style, my coloring, my figure type, and what I want to dress for–has been undergoing a reexamination.

When I read about the RTW Fast it struck me that it could give me just the right combination of structure, incentives, flexibility, and accountability to get me out of analysis paralysis into purposeful action. I am going to give the RTW Fast my best shot to turn 2018 into a year I can look back on with a feeling of accomplishment. That doesn’t sound like deprivation to me.

Signing up for the 2108 Goodbye Valentino Ready to Wear Fast ends Dec. 31, 2017. Click on the link for registration details. I hope you can join us!