Receptive to Material

Sewing, 2014
Fabrics made from natural fibers have distinct properties (e.g. density, surface texture, friction, weight, suppleness, crispness...). These determine how best to cut pattern pieces from a material, the type of sewing needle and pins to use, even the way to press the seams. It's a collaborative process--working attuned to the cloth.

In between other projects have bit by bit made a linen shift to wear as a slip. This is a fabric I love. Rarely use pins when working with linen. In the photo my right index finger is tucking under a narrow edge of the linen while my left hand keeps the material aligned as it passes under the sewing needle. A foot on the pedal powers the motor simultaneously. There's a harmony to it.

Lately it's primarily silk taffeta on the cutting and sewing tables. This material! It is magnificent. Taffeta has the subtle sheen of the surface of a lake at dusk. It is so sculptural one could make origami with it. Working with silk taffeta is like entering an elegant home whose hostess' inviting manner makes one at ease in the sumptuous surroundings. A lot of metaphors for one fabric. Honestly, it's poetic stuff.

Synthetic fibers have advantages, of course! Though they aren't quite penicillin, Lycra and its kin have allowed clothing to become softer, more durable and to be adapted to different climate conditions and provide simpler sizing [applauding: stretch].

Never Finished... And That's a Good Thing

Summer Nightgown. Cotton,  2013
The heat of a summer night asks for nothing more than the simplest nightgown of finely woven cotton. This one has pintuck pleats each adorned with an embroidered stylized blossom. It was only after sewing the nightgown with its pintucks that an element appeared to be missing: a dash of color. A month or two later embroidery was added.

Designing and making clothing rather than shopping since 2008 have produced a fairly complete wardrobe. (This summer stitched a new lingerie design which I'm loving.) As with the nightgown, recently find myself reworking garments: modifying a neckline, lowering a waist, raising a hem. Read about an artist who altered paintings even as they were on exhibit in a museum. Understandable impulse. Rare is a piece static enough that imagination resists dreaming of its further development.

Detail: Embroidery & Pintucks, 2013

Happiness, a Renewable Resource

Gazelle Neck: Cotton Thermal Jersey, 2012
(with in-process dress draped beneath)
It has been four years since I've bought clothing.* Deprivation? Hardly. Happiness!

At a holiday party a friend spoke about her two year old's love of  sweeping (using a child-size broom). "She likes it better than playing with any of her toys," she marveled. There is joy in self-reliance for both the toddler using a broom to help sweep and the grown-up dressing in garments she makes.

The decision to make what I wear rather than to purchase clothing happened in an an instant, without premeditation. There was hardly any intention of it becoming a lifestyle! 

Why continue? Has avoiding shopping made me happy? Nah, that's not it. It's the practice that evolved from that decision: the devotion to making and autonomy. That generates happiness which fuels this endeavor!

(With the pattern for the gazelle neck top made another version in cotton thermal. A pair of love birds nestles above the hem.)

*socks aside

Girdles and Bras

Lingerie Shop with a Bra Repair Service 

Am designing a dress that skims the body at the hips. It might be an opportune occasion to branch out and make a girdle. Before doing so, I'm learning more about their design, materials and construction. At a local lingerie shop the owner insisted adamantly, "They aren't called 'girdles' any more."

Went to Borough Park, Brooklyn where a girdle is still a girdle. In a corner of a lingerie shop that I visited a seamstress sat at a sewing table using an industrial sewing machine. A pile of bras was draped on the table. Each had a manila tag tied to it specifying the repairs or alterations to be made. As a job was completed the bra went into a black plastic bag, its handles were knotted together and the repair tag attached.

Lithuania, Back from the Countryside

Friends in Lithuania say it is known as "The Land of Rain". It might be "The Land of Bread" (incredibly dense and flavorful). 

Was in the countryside in Lithuania, arriving back in Brooklyn this week. 

Countryside in LIthuania, June 2012
Brought home some dark, dark bread bought at an outdoor market where it was sold by weight. It's impressively heavy. 

Had e-mailed hosts prior to my arrival to ask whether there was a sewing machine available to use during the visit. This was greeted as a normal question. (And answered in the affirmative!)

During the visit shared sewing skills and made a pair of maternity pants for the wife of my host. 

Working by draping and taking measurements, without a paper pattern, constructed a linen shift. Wore it yesterday with a belt and heels in Brooklyn, but in the countryside Lithuania the scene is utterly different.

Linen, 2012

"You're sewing!" exclaimed the flight attendant...

Sewing on airplane. (Note pocket of seat in front.)
"Yes." I smile.

"I sew too. Buttons, when they need to be sewn," she adds, pantomiming wielding a needle and thread before beginning the official pre-flight safety demonstration.

Stitched snaps to a newly designed blouse and hand stitched a few seams where (my) machine stitching had been overzealous and had to be reworked. 

The announcement at take-off and landing is streamlined: "turn off anything with an on/off switch".  Electronic devices all around. Stitches are sewn without interruption.

Marvelous to be at this juncture with access to innovation and able to savor the inheritance of ancient skills.

Sewing Outdoors

Sewing Outdoors
It may be prudent to keep a love of winter hushed. Grumbling about the cold is more customary. Secretly relish the cold and delight in a snowstorm feisty enough to transform city streets into cross country ski paths until snowplows appear. (With layers of clothing one is warm sprinting on skis. I've made silk long undershirts of late.)

Despite Brooklyn's magical qualities, I've a craving for nature. Was in Pennsylvania this month where there was a convergence of people close to the heart, a sewing machine, blue sky, bright sunlight, deer roaming in mini-herds and winter's energizing chill. In a borrowed winter coat sat on the porch and sewed, breathing deeply.

Brought mending on the plane. A bag made years ago is now repaired.

Garment Maintenance for Guys

Some photos from last night's Garment Maintenance for Guys. 

A couple of the gentlemen grew up in countries where custom sewing has been a way of life for centuries. Yet with the mass production of clothing in factories, they report the tradition is fading rapidly. Jonathan said that in Bangladesh, his country of origin, the change has taken place at hyper-speed; within the last ten years households have ceased to sew garments for all the members of the family.

Here are the guys, having taken up a needle and thread for the first time, learning to sew on buttons. The workshop covered a lot of ground! The gentlemen were already resembling tailors by the evening's end. 

Material Possessions

(photo: Beth Rudock) 
Yesterday presented work of the past three years at The Secret City in New York. Was able to answer questions from the audience. It was amazing!

Garments were on display throughout the space: at the front, in the balcony and along the entry wall.

Introduction (photo: Leah Coloff)

Hats (photo: Beth Rudock)

Blouses (photo: Sarah Beaumont)

Subway Stitching

     Using seam ripper on the subway, 2011  
The jacket is almost completed. Buttons today. (That means buttonholes--ah, precision measuring required.) Next time ought to photograph the process. It's been a month! 

Was in a conversation recently with a man who makes shoes. He makes many versions of the same design. He said he was unable to understand anyone who made a few of something and moved on. Hum. To him, perfecting something is done through making many. To me, the learning that happens with one project is carried on to the next design. It's a continuum of a different sort. That said, I generally make several of each design, however, am quick to move on to anything else the weather, occasion or imagination suggests.

Decided to hand stitch the jacket hem. Had previously machine sewn the sleeve hem which then had to be reworked. On the subway yesterday en route to the garment district to choose buttons, unstitched sleeve hems and began sewing them using a catch stitch. [Will photograph to illustrate. It's like music to sew this stitch; all balance and rhythm.] Here's the subway setting! Genius to be able to commute and read or sew.

A Favorite Method for Marking Fabric

This has always been about the project to make an entire wardrobe. Here, veering off course: a video made in the studio!

Sewing Tailor Tacks from Verysweetlife Studio on Vimeo.

Tailor tacks are a sewn method of transferring specific pattern markings to fabric. They may be used to indicate where a dart is to be sewn, a pocket placed, buttons added and so forth. They take a little more time to make/sew than drawing a chalk mark or using pins as markers, it's true. However, tailor tacks stay put (which cannot be said for pins used as markers) and are precise (unlike chalk which makes a wider line and may "blur" with fabric handling). And when it's time to remove them they slip out with a very gentle pull.


Bees Gotta Fly and So Do I!

In My Grandmother's Sewing Kit: Bee's Wax in a Slotted Holder 
Been traveling of late. Airplane flights are conducive to working on mending and other hand sewing projects. (Blunt tipped child's scissors make it through security screenings.) Coating thread with bee's wax straightens it and gives it more substance, preventing the thread from becoming tangled as one sews. (Hand sewing has such an ancient vibe!)


Design Sketches for Camisole Blouse, 2010
There are many steps to making a garment, and it might be worth detailing them rather than waiting to post the final outcome. Initially there is a sketch, working out design ideas. Here is a sketch for the gingham blouse. Lace was going to be part of the design, but where to place it? Debated: the straps, above the bodice, at the hem and under the yoke. Ultimately the third version from the left was made.

I've Got to Make

Tucking leggings into boots before stepping out in the cold, first trying to stuff them into wool knee socks unsuccessfully then attempting to compress them tightly enough over socks to zip up the boots was mildly frustrating. "I've got to make shorter leggings," I murmured.
Hearing myself I realized how instinctive it has become to make any garment or household item I want. A duvet cover for the bed, allergen protective covers for pillows? Homemade. Leggings to be worn with boots? I can make them. Determining months ago to construct anything I am able to sew, the practice has become habit.
A retro-revolution. Sometimes turning backward is moving forward.

Louisa May Alcott

"But if work-baskets were gifted with powers of speech, they could tell stories more true and tender than any we read. For women often sew the tragedy or comedy of life into their work as they sit apparently safe and serene at home, yet are thinking deeply, living whole heart-histories, and praying fervent prayers while they embroider pretty trifles or do the weekly mending."

From An Old-Fashioned Girl. Louisa May Alcott (1870)

Much more than pinning and stitching happens as I sew. There is time to reflect. A handmade garment has a lot of thought sewn into the seams.

Slow Clothes

There's a slow food movement; I will call the project to make the majority of clothing I wear slow clothes.

Mass-produced clothing, like fast food fills a hunger and need, yet is non-durable and wasteful. Home sewn garments, similar to home cooked foods are made with care and sustenance. In a sense clothing can be nourishing.

Newly made for cooler weather. Been wearing this daily. Planning to make another. Layers!
(Knee length cover:  wool, 2009)