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A blank canvas of a purple linen dress

I hacked Sonya Phillip’s Dress No. 1 pattern (for the umpteenth time, I love those patterns), and made myself a Rather Long Dress No. 1. I had bought all this purple linen, and I don’t have the skills (yet!) to turn it into something with buttons or pleats or darts other fancy things, but I had to make something because purple and linen are two of my favorite things. So here we go. A very basic, but very comfortable dress.

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I dug out my old sewing machine to see if it still worked. For some reason I thought it was broken, but no, it’s motoring along just fine! So now I have access to some fancy stitches. It’s a Singer Brilliance something-or-other, it has a much better range of stitches than my Singer Heavy Duty. I’m thinking of going over the purple dress hems and seams with some contrasting thread. My Norwegian friend, C, is sewing her heart out right now, making amazing things, and she uses a lot of contrasting thread to great effect.

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I looked at this photo and was like, “Hey! There’s my waist!” Which I don’t mean in a body-shaming way. I mean, I’m amused, and also startled. My measurements are so straight, I’m what they call “apple-shaped”, but really I think of myself as a thick rectangle with nice legs. I’ve been thinking of trying out Cashmerette’s Wrap Dress, but it requires a belt, and I don’t think of myself as having a belt area. But look! From the back, you can kind of make out a waist area. Who knew?

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The shirt I’m wearing underneath is a soy and hemp shirt from Betsy at Intertwined Designs. I’d love to have a winter uniform of long-sleeved knit shirts and long dresses. The sneakers are these neat parachute fabric, they’re from Patagonia, but I don’t think they make them anymore.

I look at these photos and I think, “I have to find a place to take photos, where I can set up my tripod and do it myself.” No offense to my very sweet husband, who is taking these for me, but wow, this needs work. Hey everyone, look at our messy deck! Don’t those propane tanks go stellar with my new dress? I have a nice DSLR and I know how to use it, I’m actually a very good photographer. But it’s really hard to photograph yourself without a spot to take the photos, and our house doesn’t seem to have an uncluttered spot in which to set up my camera.

Don’t get me started on the clutter. This is what my sewing room looks like right now:

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That’s Frasier on the big screen – Greg bought that screen a week ago, I thought it was for him. It gets here and he says no, it’s for me so I can hook my computer up to it and watch Netflix while I sew. Awwww! Oh, I love that man. Greg, not Frasier. If we’re going to talk about Frasier, it’s Niles I have a television crush on. Although I know he’s gay. I mean, David Hyde Pierce is gay. Not Niles. Niles is just nerdy and fastidious and passionate. Anyway.

The point is: this room is a pit of clutter despair. I am attempting to clean it this week.

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And here’s the $&#*head responsible for some of it: Cal, the cat who loves sergers. That’s why he’s laying next to the Juki, he’s thinking, “When she turns around, I will pull every last thread off of this machine, and trail their beautiful tendrils out of this room, through the laundry room, and all the way to the stairs.” He did, too. Three times. I tried throwing some fabric over the machine (in the picture above), but that doesn’t seem to deter him. Tonight I’m getting a screen to put up in an effort to keep him away. We don’t have doors on the doorways, the house is old and the doorways in these two rooms aren’t to code. There’s no normal door that would fit. I’m about ready to install in the doorway a giant….whatever eats cats. A cat-eating gargoyle? A pet hyena? Cthulu? Maybe I can install a moat! YES! A moat. Then I can install sharks, and that will keep away cats and children who ask me when dinner is ready.

 

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Learning to look at clothes again. Learning to enjoy fashion.

I put these on my Amazon wishlist yesterday:

 

Since I started making my own clothes, I’ve begun giving myself permission to enjoy…..umm….clothes and stuff. Fashion? Is that what they call it? I guess I think of fashion as what’s in fashion, i.e. the current trends of the day. I don’t like most current trends, my interest is more in older styles. I like a lot of the 90’s, I love some of the artsier stuff of the 80’s (boxy shirts and baggy pants), I love funky cotton prints and big swaths of neutral linens (not always together, but sometimes), and patchwork clothes make my heart go pitter pat. Oh! And I positively love something I recently found out has a name: lagenlook. And then I love Regency styles because I love Jane Austen movies. And I love a lot of other costumes from other movies, which I won’t try to describe because I’m sure I’d get the historical periods wrong. I suppose all of that is still fashion. So I guess I’m saying: I like fashion. Which is very strange to hear myself say. 

I don’t know why this is so hard to talk about. I don’t mean my feelings. I mean, it’s hard to articulate clothes. I don’t know how. I don’t know the first thing about fashion’s history, or rules, or anything (nothing could be more obvious at this point). The feelings, though, are the easy part. Clothes telegraph feelings to me, sometimes whole ideas. I just never thought I was able to be in on the conversation.

FullSizeRender 5I’ve always been big, always too big for the stuff I wanted to wear. About once a decade I will come across some tiny little gem of a clothing source, where what I love is exactly what’s being made, and it fits me. It always feels like a miracle, and I always end up becoming friends with the owner and buying scads of their clothes. It’s as if I walk around with a voice always too low to hear, in fact usually I don’t even bother trying to speak. I just let myself be invisible (why hello, my fat girl uniform of navy and black t-shirts, and khaki pants). And then I find someone who will give me a device that will let me feel seen and heard, and like I can participate in the conversation. Sigh. I’m usually much better with metaphors. Anyway. In the late 90’s and early 00’s it was a clothing company called Zen Tropic, that made these amazing batik dresses and shirts. I ran into their booth all the time at local festivals. Later, it was Betsy’s stuff from Intertwined Designs. Her things are handmade from hemp, it’s all gorgeous stuff. I bought scads of it. Unfortunately now I’m too big for all of it, and her entire line, but I still love Betsy. I ran into her at the Oregon Country Fair, and she knew who I was, which warmed my heart. She’s a very sweet person. A couple of years ago I ran into Cada Johnson, and her t-shirts are big enough for me, and beautifully sewn and designed. I wrote a post about her. But, she followed her artistic heart and stopped making clothes, and now makes more textile art and these graceful, beautiful prayer flags. I already treasured my Cada clothes, but now I treasure them even more. 

Besides those three, two of which are gone and one of which doesn’t fit anymore, there hasn’t been anything else I’ve been able to wear that feels native to me, that gives me the feelings I want my clothes to give me. For years I got lots of feelings from Patagonia stuff, and so I wore their women’s XL and just stretched the hell out of things. I loved their company ethos, their styles, their warm fleece, and their durability. Their stuff wears like iron. It’s amazing, I love it. Eventually I started shopping in the men’s section for outerwear and some t-shirts, pretending it was for my husband – a tactic I imagine was blazingly obvious to the young and thin sales girl. And of course I bought lots of things that didn’t quite fit, putting them into my “eventually I’ll be thin” pile. A pile that I recently bagged up and threw into the closet of my sewing studio, so I could eventually go through the favorites and adjust things to fit, now that I have some idea how.

The next time I saw clothes that gave me that feeling, was when I bumped into 100 Acts of Sewing by Sonya Phillips – I write about it here and I even talk about “that feeling”, which I still haven’t described well at all. Her clothes were colorful, artsy, and simple. They made me so happy! And they were patterns. I could make them myself. That was the start of all of this.

And now here I am, looking at books about fashion and getting excited. As if this was all somehow mine, too. Something I get to enjoy, a place where I can belong. I know I’m not describing this well, and I know that it might be frustrating to read, but that’s okay because I also know that as I practice writing about this, I’ll get less bumbling and more articulate. For now I just want to get the bumbling out. I want to at least try to describe where I’m starting from. Because I’ll be really curious to see where I end up in a few years.

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Sewbi-wan Kenobi: May the seam ripper be with you

ben_kenobiI did it. I changed the blog. I’d been thinking about it ever since the sewing obsession took over, and I realized that my old blog name and design just had nothing to do with sewing at all. I wanted a change, but I hassled myself about it. “Stop shifting things around all the time.” And then you know what? I had a moment of clarity. It’s my blog. Just like sewing these clothes is about me dressing how I want, wearing what I want, making what I want. If I want to shift things, I will shift them. So I have!

My two favorite communities on Facebook are the Curvy Sewing Collective Community and the Patterns for Pirates community. A few days ago I started sewing with knits for the first time. Oh boy. Knits are great, but they take some know-how. I posted in my two favorite communities:

Oh you guys, someone talk me down off the cliff. My serger arrived today. You’d think the day that happened, the serger would be the problem, but no, she’s humming right along (I named her Andy after Pretty In Pink). It’s KNITS that are a total nightmare! I have a stack of great patterns for leggings, t-shirts, and skirts, and a stack of knit fabric. Today I thought, I’ll take it easy, I’ll make a maxi skirt, something simple, just to get adjusted to working with knits. Easy, right? And yet I just made the world’s ugliest maxi skirt.

The fabric ROLLS, rolls, rolls all the time, at every open edge. I tried ironing it on medium, per the iron’s directions and what I’ve read. It just seemed to anger it. It would stay flat for a few seconds, and then SPROING back into rolling, practically giving me it’s little knit middle finger as it went. Getting the waistband on was literally twenty minutes of me just sitting there, unrolling three layers of fabric, trying to clip them open, then watching as they furled back up. Sewing all this together was so hard (and it looked awful when I was done).

I’ve watched a dozen tutorials on YouTube, and yes, knits roll, but nothing like mine. People have knits with slightly curling edges. Where are these magical knits? What am I doing wrong? I washed it first, was that the problem? Do I need to pre-serge all edges? (What a waste of thread.) Help me, Sewbi Wan Knitobi…. (simulposting this to the Patterns for Pirates community).

wicketBetween the two communities, I got a hundred responses, everyone laughing with me, supporting me, and helping me out. (You can read them here and here.) One person even took a video of her sewing with knits to show me what normal rolling looked like! In the end we figured out that I had bought some bad fabric, and I got lots of great advice on what to get next time. Most people wear their clothes without thinking about fabric content, but when you sew it becomes necessary to really understand the material you’re working with. I’d made the mistake of thinking “knits” were just one big category that I could pull anything out of and use successfully. Boy was that the wrong assumption.

The next afternoon I thought I’d figured knits out. This time, I was trying to make a pair of Peg Legs. Now, I want to make it clear that it was not the fault of the pattern that I had so much trouble. I was making mistakes, but at the time I didn’t know what I’d done wrong, and I was rapidly descending into sewing-room misery. So I posted to the Patterns for Pirates community (the company which sells the Peg Legs pattern) to ask what I was doing wrong:

Okay, I know my post last night about knits was funny, and it was meant to be, I was frustrated but also still very much had a sense of humor intact. Today I’m basically near tears. Once I realized my green knit fabric was just BAD, that the rolling wasn’t my fault and wasn’t normal, I moved on to this pink stuff. Seemed fine! I tried to make peg legs. Spent all morning cutting them out – I have fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue, so it takes me awhile to do anything and using my time and energy this way is a big deal. Once the pattern was done, I was ecstatic at how easy they were to cut out of the fabric and put together. Until I realized, they’re wrong.

The waist on the peglegs is about 34″ around. That can’t be right. I’m a 2X, I have a 50″ waist. The band that I cut out for the pants goes way beyond the actual waist. I can’t figure this out. I checked the strips on my serger: my seam was 1/2″. The length on the pants seems just fine. I tried them on, thinking maybe there is some magic to make pants 34″ around fit a 50″ waist. No, I can’t even get them on, they’re way too small. I checked the pattern: yes, I cut out the right size. I haven’t cried over my sewing in ten years. I know it’s too early to give up on knits, but I literally have $200 worth of fabric in the dryer right now, and I’m considering just selling it and going back to making sundresses in the summer from cotton prints. What the heck is wrong with my sewing? I don’t understand. You guys are making Peg Legs left and right! Why am I failing?

Again, a ton of comments, and again, all of them kind, encouraging, and full of suggestions and advice. I’m telling you, these are the nicest people on Facebook. I love these two groups so much. People shared stories of the times they screwed up, and they had so many suggestions for how to make the next pair work. I found out what I’d done wrong; I’d cut against the grain, and I’d used a fabric with not enough stretch. The pattern wasn’t the problem, I’d seen dozens of people make great Peg Legs. It was just that I didn’t have any experience with knits, and I was glossing over details that turned out to be really important. Your basic newbie mistakes.

And then, after we’d figured out the issues, my jaw dropped when Joy Lucio from NR Fabrics told me to go her site, pick out my favorite solid color of the cotton/lycra (the blend I should have been using), and she’d send me three yards. For free. What an amazing, generous offer! A few days later, I opened my mailbox to find a package containing three yards of beautiful eggplant cotton/lycra. It’s gorgeous! I can’t wait to make another pair of Peg Legs!

I love these communities so much, I feel like I’ve found my tribe, and in sewing I feel like I’ve found my passion. I wanted to change my blog to highlight this. I thought back to the support I’d gotten, and how they’d loved my joke about “Sewbi-Wan”. When I thought about how to change my blog, I thought about the warmth of the sewing tribe, my love of sci-fi, my wise-ass sense of humor, and that silly crack I’d made. The decision was easy.

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