Has Anybody Seen My Vision Around Here?

Readers,

On the bulletin board just above my computer is tacked my favorite cartoon, by Charles Saxon of The New Yorker. It’s what I see every time I look up from my keyboard, and I’ve never grown tired of it.

I always imagine that it’s a Friday evening, and the husband has returned on the commuter train from his job in Manhattan in banking or investing to his home in a Connecticut suburb.

He’s shed his tie and shoes and sunk his head into a pillow on the genteel but not comfortable-looking settee, stretching out for a restorative nap before dinner. The downturned mouth suggests he’s still ruminating about work and that his weekend has not quite begun.

And then his wife descends the staircase clutching a clipboard and says, tentatively but hopefully, “If it’s all right with you, I thought we’d do some long-range planning tonight.”

Don’t ask why I think this cartoon is so hilarious, but it may be because it hits so close to home.  I am that wife with the clipboard and the torrent of bright ideas.

Until recently, that is. Lately I’ve been feeling more like the husband on the couch: brooding and in a state of torpor.

If I learned anything from participating in the Ready-to-Wear Fast last year, it was that simply refraining from buying clothes does not instantly supply inspiration for designing a new wardrobe.

I may have learned better than ever what I dislike in what I presently own–and that was actually very useful–but I was not automatically transported to some new level of  understanding of what I like and what looks wonderful on me. No, I still need to do my homework.

This homework has been complicated by the fact that my coloring seems to be changing, so I’m not sure what does look good on me.  Some days it seems like the gray in my hair is quickly multiplying, yet other days I think I still am overall a dark brunette. I’m noticing that different colors near my face can make a huge difference in whether the gray or the dark brown is more noticeable.

I’ve also wondered whether my complexion is cooling. I think some years ago I was decidedly warm, but now it seems I am just on the warm side of the fence, which is affecting which colors complement me and which upstage me. It looks like I’ll be saying goodbye to some favorite colors that are too strong for me now, and that’s a little disorienting. I haven’t yet made the acquaintance of colors that will be new favorites.

In this period of adjusting and reframing I’ve been reviewing the materials of Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program and reading vast amounts of the free content on her impressive blog, Inside Out Style, which has been great. I needed the refresh.  Imogen bases her wardrobe-building strategy on a combination of objective elements,  like your coloring, level of contrast, and figure type, with subjective elements: your fashion personality and “style recipe.”  Some days I make more headway on factual research. Other days I have a new insight into my style recipe, a concept that’s earning a new level of interest and respect from me.

Another way I’ve recently tackled the indecision doldrums was by attending a free, two-part talk at my local library given by the first certified KonMari consultant in Ohio, Michell Domke, about putting the principles of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up into practice.

Only minutes into the presentation Michell was having us close our eyes and visualize our ideal lifestyles as expressed in our homes. I’m sure the vision was different for every single person in the room but equally powerful.  Michell told us that one of her clients had struggled for two years to apply the KonMari organizing methods without imagining the ideal lifestyle she wanted to aim for, and guess what? She got stuck. She made no progress.

So, back to the cartoon that sits above my computer. Now I think I’m a little bit of each of the people in the drawing.

Part of me is nodding off on that couch with a furrowed brow mulling over one problem or another.

But part of me remains that lady with the clipboard, hesitantly yet insistently inviting me to do some long-range planning.

For the best vision it helps to have an up-to-date prescription.

 

2018, Seen in a New Light

Readers,

Pants-fitting: a weighty topic in 2018.

There is something Jack and I say to each other at dinnertime some nights, when we’ve cooked something that’s filled the kitchen with a delicious smell most of the afternoon, like a potato, leek and cabbage soup that feels perfect for a snowy January evening.

As we ladle soup into our bowls with rising anticipation of a satisfying meal, one of us may say,

“This will never make it onto the magazine cover.”

Which means, This may smell good, taste good, and nourish both body and soul, but it’s lacking in the looks department, so many people will pass this up. The joke is on them. Look at what they’re missing out on!

I thought of this little scenario as I contemplated this past year of getting things sewn:  2018 will never make it onto the magazine cover.

No way.

Because it was a very potato-soup kind of year:

Spectacular? No.

But nourishing? Yes.

For me, 2018 was hardly a stellar year for sewing production. From January to November I sewed all of three sleeveless blouses, from the same TNT pattern, for myself (and posted about only one); one shirt for Jack; and…I think ten placemats.

Woohoo.

And yet–developing a TNT blouse pattern so I could concentrate on improving my construction was progress.

Designing a shirt for Jack from the same yardage as my blouse , but different from my blouse, was a fun design challenge.

And figuring out how to make beautiful, useful placemats from my irreplaceable souvenir fabric was very satisfying.

2018 was the year of sewing pants muslins. I lost count of how many I sewed. If you save the fronts of a pants muslin, rip out the backs, and cut and sew on new backs, is that a new muslin, or not? By anyone’s count, I made a lot of muslins from January through September.  Dozens.

Then I took lots of photos of myself in these muslins–front, sides, back–printed out the photos, scrutinized every drag line, read lots of pants-fitting advice, and tested methods of improving the fit. Sometimes I did make progress but never got to a satisfactory result on my own.

In 2018 I spent hundreds of hours studying, experimenting with, and documenting pants-fitting. This morning I pulled the binder of notes I kept, curious about how much it weighed: more than 2 1/2 pounds!

If only there were a direct relationship between the number of hours spent and the quality of the result, I should be able to claim a high level of expertise and sport a closetful of beautifully fitted pants. I did make three wearable tests with varying degrees of success after meetings with two sewing and fitting experts, as I wrote about in November.  Then I took a break from pants–

–and sewed something completely different: living room draperies.  November into early December the sewing room was a drapery workroom.  What a wonderful project.  I will write about it soon.

2018 was the year of the Goodbye Valentino Ready-to-Wear Fast, in which I was one of about a thousand participants.  I steadfastly refrained from buying any ready-to-wear, which was not that difficult for me because most ready-to-wear clothes don’t fit anyway, so it was hardly a sacrifice.

However, merely stopping browsing and buying clothing did not turn me into a clothes-making maniac.

First of all, I had decided it was time to confront my bête noire, pants-fitting. That kept me occupied for months.  I kept thinking I was awfully close to a decent fit and that soon I’d be fitting a handful of other carefully selected core-collection patterns for wardrobe capsules for every season. You know the rest of that story.

The RTW Fast was a way to nudge sewers toward realizing their clothes-sewing dreams, and many sewers did just that in 2018. Me? The value I gained was considerable, but not, as Jack and I would say, something that would rate magazine cover status.

Over the course of the year I wore the same clothes (plus the three summer blouses I made) again and again. And again.

In 2018 I gave myself no recourse to a temporary fix from one of my favorite consignment stores to tide me over till I had something I really liked. The results of limiting myself were:

  • I wore more of what was in my closet, out of necessity.
  • I created new outfits, out of necessity, and realized that some clothes were more versatile than I’d thought.
  • I wore things I didn’t much like, just to avoid total boredom.
  • I understood better than ever before what I didn’t like.
  • I began editing down my wardrobe more decisively than ever before, based on condition, comfort, or style.
  • I resolved never to have certain wardrobe items, like scratchy wool sweaters, ever again.  I would just have to come up with alternatives that suited me.
  • I noticed more than ever how certain colors were downright unflattering, or fell short of flattering, and decided to replace them only with colors that work for me and work with each other.
  • I recognized even more I had put a great deal of effort into sewing garments that were technically good but wrong in proportion, color, pattern, or style and had created wardrobe orphans. This had to stop.

Over the course of the year my wardrobe grew more sparse, and much of what remained were simply placeholders till the day I sewed or bought things I liked and that went together.

But–what do I like? What does look good on me? What things do work well together in outfits and capsules?  2018 was a year I puzzled over these questions afresh.

2018 was also a year I thought a great deal about designing and managing projects.  In January I wrote about Jon Acuff’s book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done.  I am not as sure as the author is that it’s perfectionism that stops people from finishing their projects.

I was probably still trying to figure out a better explanation than perfectionism when, in February, I wrote a behemoth of a post listing every factor I could think of that went into project design. It turns out there are a lot!

I am convinced there’s no one-size-fits-all process for getting things sewn because different people have different talents, experience, work styles, learning styles, aversions, and ambitions. Each of us has to work out our own path–possibly strewn with dozens of pants muslins–to determine the processes that work best for us. It may take longer than imagined, but it’s time well spent.

That conclusion might not get approved by the magazine cover committee–but they don’t know what they’re missing, do they?

De-stashing on a Deadline

Readers,

I got back from our New York trip to find an e-mail from my local little independent fabric store. Sew to Speak, in Worthington, Ohio, was announcing an event it was calling “De-stash on the Lawn”–a yard sale especially for sewers September 9.  What a brilliant idea.

For a small fee sewers could rent space on the tables on the lawn in front of the store to sell stash fabrics and notions not only to Sew to Speak customers but also to passersby on their way to pick up some basil and tomatoes at the nearby farmers’ market.  Presumably, with our yard-sale earnings we vendors would then be primed to browse Sew to Speak’s beautiful fabric selections for fall to restock our sewing room shelves.

I read Sew to Speak’s announcement first as a customer, and since I’d hadn’t even unpacked my purchases from the Garment District I thought, no, I’ll pass up this event.

Then I thought, hey–I need to be part of this–as a seller.

I slept on the idea but the next morning I was so concerned that table space would sell out fast that I registered to secure my place.

Of course, I saw the De-stash on the Lawn as a convenient solution to the pesky problem of disposing fabrics and scraps, buttons, and sewing gadgets that no charity or consignment store would accept. If all I did was lightly edit my fabrics and notions, spend a pleasant Saturday morning in some good-natured haggling with other sewers, and earn back the $12 I’d spent on table space, I wouldn’t consider the time ill-spent.

But then I wondered how I might leverage the opportunity further, to yield a bigger benefit.  After all, I’ve been mulling over Sewing Room 2.0 for months.

Yes, the sewing room is due for an overhaul.  In the first round, three years ago when we moved into this mid-century fixer-upper, I was happy just to have a biggish room with natural light and good heating (unlike my Minneapolis basement sewing domain).

Now I want more.

No, not more space–more function.  A 17-foot by 13-foot room should work fine, but I’ve got to get a lot smarter about supporting the whole getting-things-sewn process, start to finish.

I sewed for years in a space that just–existed. It performed moderately well and I got moderately good results.  I never even thought about designing my sewing space until I began blogging.

The big lesson I learned from designing my Minneapolis basement sewing domain was:

Space not otherwise assigned a function tends to get filled with stuff.

I’ve found this becomes a serious problem when stuff interferes with doing activities.

Obviously, fabrics (and patterns, books, equipment, etc.) are physical objects and need cubic feet of storage space. That’s a fact.

But designing garments–outfits–even a seasonal collection for a wardrobe–what space does that activity require? Isn’t that important, too?

I had never considered that question until recently. In Sewing Room 2.0 I want to shift the default.

In Sewing Room 2.0, supporting activities will take precedence over storing stuff.

Readers, I am stating this without completely knowing what a Sewing Room 2.0 will look like. But now, I’m eager to find out.

Guest Blogger: Our Advice Columnist, Miss GTS

Miss GTS has been watching me–and watching out for me.

If the writer of this blog has been somewhat elusive,

And more than a little aloof and reclusive,

It’s only because she has been on sabbatical

Attempting to superintend projects radical

To transform a house locked in 1958ness

Into an abode that is destined for greatness.

Our fixer-upper.

Our fixer-upper.

Warned her sister, “Of tobacco this dwelling does reek,

And I fear that its outlook’s no better than bleak.

I’d love to have you in the neighborhood

But this house’s call for labor would

Give pause to mighty Hercules!

So– I ask you, please,

Consider other properties!”

 

Auditioning condo, flat, and house

Separately and with Jack, her spouse,

Hourly checking Zillow online,

Flying down to Ohio from time to time,

Such possibilities our blogger weighed,

But naught else ever made the grade.

Meanwhile, “The Reeker” on the market stayed.

Wallpaper with a cocktail theme on the walls down to the basement rec room.

Wallpaper with a cocktail theme on the walls down to the basement rec room.

Her sister said, “I know a builder

Whom this house would not bewilder.

Should he walk through and give opinion

Whether this could be your next dominion?”

His verdict? “The Reeker” was ugly, but sound:

Improvements were “doable,” he said, but profound.

The sale was negotiated and house was won,

And that’s when the adventure was really begun.

 

To freshen each surface by cigarettes tainted

With gallons of primer Jack painted–and painted.

If the cigarette smell was bad in the house, it was even worse in the garage.

If the cigarette smell was bad in the house, it was even worse in the garage.

 

Then followed the guy to change locks on the doors

And men armed with sanders to finish the floors.

The chimney was swept and the radon abated,

Termites were found and then exterminated.

The furnace was checked; gas leaks eliminated;

AC was replaced, and walls were insulated.

 

Drained was the yard and then pruned was the tree,

Driveway resurfaced; and from AT&T,

Came service for Internet, phone, and TV.

 

But all this was only the warmup, you see.

 

For after the house was safe and sound

Came the decorating round.

 

Our blogger’s new haunt was the hardware store

Where she gathered and scrutinized paint chips galore.

Hypnotized, online for hours she’d browse

Millions of pictures and stories on Houzz.

 

She tried to continue to blog without failing,

Doing a series on Kenneth King’s Smart Tailoring,

Chronicling her jacket–while just down the hallway

The carpenter’s crowbar made bathroom walls fall away.

The upstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

The upstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

The upstairs bathroom, gutted.

The upstairs bathroom, gutted.

The upstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

The upstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

 

But while plumbers were fighting to vanquish corrosion

She found that her focus was suffering erosion.

 

She had to be ready to issue decisions

And equally ready to offer revisions;

She was on alert for doorbell, phone, and text

And was constantly thinking about what to do next.

She tutored herself how to execute floor plans,

And more plans, and more plans, and more plans–and more plans!

 

The basement remodeled, the first bathroom followed,

And in a new welter of choices she wallowed.

And although home designers are heavily vaunted,

There wasn’t a one who could say what she wanted.

None else could define and refine her dreams

And turn them into living schemes.

The basement rec room when the house was staged for sale.

The basement rec room when the house was staged for sale.

The basement remodel.

The basement remodel.

Basement: Clean and bright.

Basement: Clean and bright.

 

She warmed to her task; she plunged into the deep end

And, bathyscaphe-like, she started to descend

Into memories of objects and places she’d been

That expressed an essential sensation within,

Then translated the feelings to physical objects–

And dozens, and dozens–and dozens of projects!

 

Still a bathroom to go, and the big one–the kitchen–

Were lined up on the runway, and our blogger was itching

To do those jobs justice. But ‘twould court disaster

To think she could serve any more than one master.

 

So she promised her blog she’d be back, with a wink,

And turned her attention to choosing a sink

And countertops and enough appliances

To support all the major domestic sciences.

 

But she also imagined the feeling and mood

She wanted when they were preparing their food,

And the smell of their coffee, in dim morning light,

And the rituals of closing their kitchen each night,

And what colors and patterns ideally expressed

Generosity, civility, and happiness.

Where, and how, might I use these colors, patterns, and combinations in our house?

Where, and how, might I use these colors, patterns, and combinations in our house?

 

Meanwhile, her blog waited and silently beckoned,

For her to pick up where she’d stopped, and she reckoned

She’d start again “soon,” but–not just this second.

 

I watched all this, Readers, with unblinking gaze–

The heartening progress and dreaded delays.

The kitchen got done; second bathroom did, too.

Before: the kitchen

The kitchen, when the house was staged for sale.

The kitchen, nearing completion.

The kitchen, nearing completion, before the linoleum floor was installed.

Downstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

Downstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

Downstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

Downstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

The dust having settled, now I sought a clue:

I wondered if she would return to her pace

Or suffer from more than a little malaise.

 

So I thought I’d inquire and make my view plain,

And I walked to the door of her sewing domain.

In that doorway I stood with my arms akimbo

And simply asked, “When are you leaving this limbo?

Your mannequin, Ginger, is de-energized,

And if she had a head she’d be rolling her eyes.

Ginger the mannequin has been wearing the same outfit for months!

Ginger the mannequin has been wearing the same outfit for months!

And readers are asking about your demise–

(I suspect that they’re angling to buy your supplies…)

And my job is saying a word to the wise,

But these last twelve long months I’ve had none to advise!”

 

“We’re all in the doldrums, we all seek employment–

And doing our work would restore our enjoyment.”

 

Emboldened, I said, “Please forgive me for prodding,”

(And I’d swear in the corner that Ginger was nodding),

“I refrain from advising without invitation,

But I’d like to help you defeat hesitation.

You’ve been in the thrall of this house long enough:

It’s time that you wrote about sewing your stuff.”

 

“You’re becalmed at the moment; it’s hard to get traction

When you are inactive instead of in action.

The bulk of your work on the house is now finished;

Its gravitational pull is diminished.

The blog’s pull is weak now–but starting to strengthen;

Your concentration’s beginning to lengthen.

I sense your momentum may be in the wings

If you just give your flywheel a few good, strong spins.”

 

At this point, dear Readers, did I descry

A glimmer return to our blogger’s eye?

 

“Your blog’s a UFO*, that’s all,

And I should hope that you would recall

My prudent counsel to get things sewn

Is to do it yourself–but not do it alone.”

 

“Engage the right expert to see your way through,

And as I’ve said before, the right expert is you.

This blog’s entirely your invention–

You know your goal and your intention.”

 

“For months I’ve seen you lay the groundwork

For lovelier and even more profound work.

You sewed living room drapes, for heaven’s sake,

And shirts for Jack that take the cake!

Curtain rings, brackets, and finials being painted for the living room drapery project.

Curtain rings, brackets, and finials being painted for the living room drapery project.

Testing out spacing pleats for the living room draperies.

Testing out spacing pleats for the living room draperies.

You finally came round to fitting and altering

Without histrionics, or fainting, or faltering.

What’s more, you’ve been sewing many a muslin–

The number must be approaching a dozlen!”

 

“Well, that all is quite true,” said our writer, blinking,

And I believe I divined that the old girl was thinking.

 

“So you are getting things sewn, but not all the way,

What I tell you’s the truth, or I’ll eat my beret:

You’re a writer who sews, and you don’t fully digest

Until you’ve attempted a jokey or wry jest

And through your efforts to others explain

To inform or at least to entertain.”

 

“Writing’s your real game, so spring off that bench

And stitch up that lounge robe or jacket or trench,

Then proceed to report upon how it all ended,

Reaping double rewards from your efforts expended.”

 

I rested my case with a voice magisterial:

“Sewing bloggers,” said I, “never lack for material;

I know you’ve the house–and Italian, now, too–

But you’re never alone–we are here to help you.”

This past January Jack and I started studying Italian together at Ohio State University.

This past January Jack and I started studying Italian together at Ohio State University.

 

Our writer looked hopeful; I gave her a fist bump.

 

And if Ginger had arms she’d have given a fist pump.

She told me her old clothes were itchy and riling,

That she was impatient for new clothes and styling–

 

And if she had a head, I believe she’d be smiling.

 

 

The muslin of this McCall's "Misses' Lounging Robe" from 1951

The muslin of this McCall’s “Misses’ Lounging Robe” from 1951

And here is the illustration.

And here is the illustration.

 *UnFinished Object

Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors: Days 3 and 4

Readers,

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

A basted jacket presides over our empty classroom.

A basted jacket presides over our empty classroom.

Hello Edith!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trouser draft.

Trouser draft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bellows pocket pattern flat...

A bellows pocket pattern flat…

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

...and folded.

…and folded.

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

Waistcoat sketches

Waistcoat sketches

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

Your slow but devoted student.

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

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