Anyone who has read my blog more than a few times will know that I spend some of my life designing and sewing and a lot of my life writing. I’ve been writing books for over 30 years. I started as a health and business writer (you can even see some of my nonfiction books if you visit my web site patriciajparsons.com), but I’ve been writing fiction in recent years, mostly women’s fiction.
Last year, my book The Year I Made 12 Dresses introduced my readers to Charlotte (“Charlie”) Hudson.
After her mother’s unexpected death, struggling writer Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson moves into her family house after her older, mostly absent sister Evelyn instructs her to empty the family home of objects and memories to ready it for sale.
When Charlie stumbles on a dusty old sewing machine hidden away among the clutter of detritus in the basement, she has no idea of the journey it will take her on or the secrets it might reveal about her mother, her family and herself. If only she will let it.
With the help of an enigmatic fabric-guru named Al, Charlie discovers how little she really knows about anyone―especially herself.
When that year was over, Charlie thought she knew all her mother’s secrets. She was wrong.
Today, I’m delighted to be launching my newest book, Kat’s Kosmic Blues. Kat is Charlie’s mother, and this is her story. It all starts in 1965 (and there may be sewing and fashion design involved!).
Please click on the video below and join me for the launch. I’ll introduce you to Kat and her story and to me―Kat’s creator.
And when you’ve done that, maybe you’d like to join us sewing nerds on Facebook where fashion sewing book lovers meet to share stories aboue their projects and their reading.
I’ve been sewing since I was thirteen-years-old. This you might have suspected. But you probably didn’t know that I’ve also been writing since about the same time. That’s a lot of years of sewing and writing! I started my writing career as a nonfiction, health and medical writer. Eventually, I wrote a dozen books, lots of articles and recently have dabbled in fiction – women’s and historical fiction. But today is a first.
Today marks the first time in my life that my sewing and design passion has meshed with my regular life as a writer. For the past year, I’ve been working away at a story that started off as something quite different than what it ended up becoming.
I usually write satirical, humorous lit-for-intelligent-chicks and historical fiction these days. And this book started out to be one of the former. When I started writing, though, Charlie (my main character – Charlotte to those who don’t know her so well) and her sewing machine took over, and I found myself on a journey that took her (and me) to places I hadn’t expected.
Anyway, it’s dedicated to all the amazing women I’ve met both in real life and online. There are so few novels that really are about sewing, I thought I’d share it with you in the hope that some of you might enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
THE YEAR I MADE 12 DRESSES
A struggling writer, an enigmatic shop clerk, an old sewing machine and an inspirational journey of discovery – where every dress is more than it appears to be.
After her mother’s unexpected death, struggling writer Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson moves into her family house after her older, mostly absent sister Evelyn instructs her to empty the family home of objects and memories to ready it for sale.
When Charlie stumbles on a dusty old sewing machine hidden away among the clutter of detritus in the basement, she has no idea of the journey it will take her on, or of the secrets it might reveal about her mother, her family and herself. If only she will let it.
With the help of an enigmatic fabric-guru named Al, Charlie discovers how little she really knows about anyone – especially herself. Join Charlie and Al on their inspirational journey of discovery where every dress is more than it appears to be.
To learn more, I invite you to visit the 12 Dresses page at Moonlight Press and watch the trailer video…
12 Dresses is available from all your favourite online book retailers in both paperback and as an eBook for a variety of eReaders.
We are now deeply ensconced in the dead of winter here in Toronto. Up until recently, the winter has been pleasant enough: dry weather, sun, no snow, cold but bearable. That all changed within the past week, and now it is truly a Canadian winter.
I can see snow on the sidewalks below our windows and everyone on the street, rushing back and forth in the requisite winter uniform of black – with the odd bit of fur and faux fur embellishing the ensemble – is clutching hats and scarves better to stave off the minus 20-degree Celsius wind chill. And here am I submerged in finishing my cruise collection. The gauzy, Indian cotton that is currently draped over Gloria junior is taking me away to images of sandy beaches and palm trees. But I’m taking a bit of a break just this minute because I have a new design toy and a couple of books that are distracting me.
I don’t know how you do it these days, but when it comes to Christmas shopping, members of my immediate family (meaning husband and son) do enjoy a bit of real-life shopping, but nothing beats the convenience of the online, world-wide mall. Of course, I refer to Amazon. So, about eight weeks before Christmas, I make the annual proclamation to everyone: “Clean up your Amazon wish list!” And they do, removing odd things that seemed like a good idea when they were clicked into the cart in July, but now don’t seem to be priorities. Because everyone in our family knows, if it is on that list, it’s fair game for under the Christmas tree (except for the vacuum attachment kit that had been on my husband’s list for four years – he always wondered why no one had given it to him as a gift. A vacuum attachment kit? Really? Well, he got it this year!).
Picking things off that list often results in my husband and son proclaiming, “Well, I didn’t really know what it was, but…” as they hand me a sewing or pattern-making gizmo or gadget that had been lurking on my own wish list. And occasionally a send along a link to a product that I think would be terrific. This year it was a link to Cochenille’s Garment Designer, a software program that I had uncovered after a lot of online research.
I had considered others: Adobe Illustrator for one. Right off the bat it’s a bit of a non-starter since it’s so expensive, and I’m not entirely sure that computer-assisted design is the way for me to go yet. Then there is Wild Ginger which looks interesting and I might get there. But Garment Designer had a bunch of online instructional videos that allowed me to tour the program. That sold me on it. I thought I could easily learn it.
I am just beginning to explore it and what it can accomplish. I’ve gone as far as creating four draft garments – simple ones to start – based on my personal sloper measurements. I haven’t had time to sew up any muslins yet, but it’s not far off and I’ll share that journey on this blog.
My son gave me another book in the series Fashion Patternmaking Techniques. This one is “Haute Couture.”
Last year he gave me volume 2: “How to make shirts, undergarments, dresses, waistcoats and jackets.” Both of these volumes are incredibly entertaining and inspirational. I like to flip through them, zero in on a design that catches my eye, then study the pattern.
I have learned so much just from browsing. These are winners for sure – and there are more volumes for future Christmas lists!
My husband’s list included a number of items from Lee Valley. Lee Valley is a Canadian, family-owned business that sells high quality woodworking and gardening supplies – and lots of other interesting items for your kitchen and other things. He happened to mention that he had seen a sewing-related item that I might like. So, when I ordered his presents, I also ordered one for myself. It is called the Pro Seam Ripper Kit. I am nothing if not becoming a pro at seam ripping! Oh, I think they mean the kit was a pro one!
Anyway, here it is.
What’s so fabulous about it is the quality of the surgical-grade steel that is used in the blades. A slight flick and the thread is neatly sliced. Just watch your fingers! It has two different blades and handles: one is a regular seam ripper with a slightly bulbous point that does not rip through fabric. The other, called a stitch picker, has a very pointy point to get under even the tiniest of stitches. That one is slightly lethal: I use the regular one more. Anyway, it is a fabulous kit that comes in its own hard plastic case with replacement blades. I only hope I won’t need to replace the blades any time soon: that would mean there had been a whole lot of seam ripping.
Oh, yes. I have used it. I just finished the second skirt in the cruise collection and the fabric – well, let’s just say that it was a bit challenging, and not all of the seams came out perfectly on first try. And that invisible zipper? I have never in my life had a problem with one, but this time, I actually sewed one side inside out – twice. The pro seam ripper came in very handy for that one.
Well, now it’s back to the atelier where I am putting the finishing touches on the cruise collection. “Cutting it a bit close, aren’t you?” said my husband a day or two ago. Perhaps!
How is it possible to work closely with someone for years, enjoy their company, respect their knowledge and experience and appreciate their collegiality yet not really know something this important about them? I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Barbara Emodi for years in my “other” life and wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear that she’d written a book. However, I expected that the book would be about political communication, a topic about which she’s something of an expert. Turns out I didn’t know her at all!
Expert though she may be in political communication and university teaching (which is where she and I intersected happily for some years), it seems that she’s equally expert in sewing. How did I not know this? Let me back up a bit.
About three years ago, after I had returned to sewing and had taken early retirement from my university career, I happened to be reading an article in an old Threads magazine on the topic of fitting. It was a terrific article, and as someone who also writes books and magazine articles from time to time, I glanced at the by-line, like you do. Many people don’t ever do this, but if you’re also a writer, you know what I mean. The author’s name was Barbara Emodi. Hmm…I thought, not a very common name in my view. So, I did a bit of exploring and found that Barbara had this whole other life all the time we were working together. It must be a testament to our single-minded focus on our work that we never discussed this mutual interest. It seemed that alongside of Barbara’s stellar work with me in my university department, she was writing magazine articles, teaching sewing, developing a seriously popular (and very entertaining/educational) blog, and generally becoming an internationally-renowned sewing expert. And she has written a book – about sewing.
Sew…The Garment-Making Book of Knowledge: Real-Life Lessons from a Serial Sewist is a seriously good book. With Barbara’s signature wry style, she presents a book that purports to be the sewing advice and lore you would received from your mother or grand-mother… well, it is if your mother or grand-mother happened to be a sewing expert with wildly well-developed communication and writing skills.
She begins the book with a rumination about “what sewing can do for you.” Her discussion goes beyond the usual – sewing is a creative outlet – to take in notions of improving your resourcefulness and making you see things about yourself and your life more clearly. You should really read it yourself. But suffice it to say that few sewing writers address this fundamental aspect of sewing – and she does it in such a clear and accessible way. The book doesn’t simply impart knowledge; it also makes you think. How often does that happen?
Although this book would be terrific for anyone who is just starting out on their sewing journey, it is also for those of us who have moved beyond the basics. She begins with finding the right pattern and moves on to fitting issues and altering flat patterns. I especially appreciated her discussion of what makes a great pattern to help everyone who has ever struggled with whether or not a particular pattern would work for them. She also talks about choosing and cutting fabric which is of particular interest to me.
One of my other favourite books that I reach for often is The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory by Gail Baugh because I adore fabric – not hoarding it (that goes against every principle I hold about having enough but not too much of anything) – but understanding it and figuring out how it will behave in specific applications. Barbara’s chapter isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it’s a great place to start.
Sew… is lavishly illustrated and is replete with extraordinarily well-conceived full-colour photos. It’s a wonderful addition to my own library and I think anyone interested in sewing would appreciate its wisdom and insight. And it’s entertaining, too.
In my own inimitable way, I have two minor bones to pick with the book: first, on page 39 she refers to the double-ended, fish-eye dart as a French dart. Nowhere I can find calls this a French dart. A French dart, as defined by Craftsy (and everyone else on the internet), is “…a type of elongated bust dart that start[s] at the side seam, down near the waistline, and end[s] up near the bust point…”
The second issue is on page 185 where it says “…Your machine needs oil.” End of story. In fact, some machines, mine included (Singer Quantum Stylist 9960) has specific instructions NOT to oil. I say follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Both of these are editorial issues, not author issues in my view.
Anyway, you should buy this book for yourself to add to your collection (or put it on your Christmas wish list) and buy a copy for your sewing friend.
All of this as a way to put off just a bit longer my final unveiling of my Little Black Dress and the end of that (very) long project!
While everyone around me is readying themselves for the upcoming Christmas season (it may be upon you already, but for me it is still upcoming!), I’m toiling away at finishing a project that I had planned to accomplish for over a year. I am making a tunic. From a book. That is probably old news to you.
So, I’m late to the Tunic Bible party. That does not mean I am any less sincere!
I love a great book, especially one on the general topic area of sewing, couture sewing, style, fashion and how to look one’s best as one embraces the wisdom of the mature years *clears her throat* I occasionally review books here or rather I share my particular responses and general musings about them, so this is not really a book review. That being said, it is really a how-to book and so if you want to know about the qualities of a how-to book, you really have to get in there, turn up your sleeves so to speak, and learn “how-to.” But please let me set the stage.
I love certain kinds of tunics. I mean I really love them, and always have. When I think of “tunics” I’m not thinking of the box-pleated tunic I wore to elementary school – although now that I think of it, maybe the love of tunics did start there. I really liked school. And this one looks just like the tunic I had to wear (sans tie)…
And I’m not thinking of all those shapeless, knit tunics that women wear to cover up parts of them they would prefer not to show although the jersey-type fabrics might not really be doing their job. No, I’m talking about the Tory Burch kind of tunic.
Since the first time I saw a Tory Burch tunic quite a few years ago, I have loved her approach to creating a garment with a dizzying array of approaches to carrying it off. She refers to her tunics as “the height of bohemian chic” which is probably true, but the idea of me being the slightest bit bohemian would probably make anyone who knows me giddy. Nevertheless, this is why I swooned when I happened upon the Tunic Bible.
Written by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr, The Tunic Bible purports to be… “One Pattern, Interchangeable Pieces, Ready-to-Wear Results…” To me it seemed like the most brilliant idea in the world. Well, for me it was two out of three, anyway. It is just up my alley these days as I attempt to create my own working pattern blocks that can be changed over and over into different well-fitting garments that I love. So, when no one bought it off my Amazon wish list last Christmas, I bought it for myself.
I spent a few months just enjoying its photos and planning how my first one might look. I didn’t, however, ever get around to actually buying a piece of fabric exclusively for the purpose of a tunic creation of my own. So, for months, it was just a figment of my imagination.
Then I had a brain child. I had been looking for ways to use up some remnants left over from this year’s projects. I would have just enough if I used the coordinating pieces effectively. So, I determined my size in the included pattern, traced off my size and proceeded to create a fitting muslin. Well, that didn’t work out so well. The fit was hideous – but the neckline was good.
The pattern seems to fit so many people from the reviews I had read, but I just could not get rid of the bubble of material in the front of the tunic sample. The shape of it just wasn’t right for me. If I had taken waist darts it might have worked, but I wanted to be able to use it with or without those darts. Sometimes you just don’t want it so fitted and don’t want to have to put in a zipper. If it had had a front seam, I could have accomplished it, but alas, that would ruin the look of the tunic. So, I took out my own bodice sloper and began to experiment with the Tunic Bible necklines and my own bodice size. It had mixed results – pun intended.
The muslin fit well enough for me to go ahead with cutting it out of the left-over material I had on hand. I was excited because I was going to creatively use the pieces to get a unique piece that I hoped would be great for next summer. The cutting and sewing went so well. That was until I began to attach the collar – I had not put a collar on the muslin – my first mistake.
There was not a doubt about it: the collar was too small for the neckline. Well, I thought, maybe I’m supposed to ease it in. Mother of god – just look at the gathers I had to put in.
It wasn’t that this looked so bad, but it really changed the fit of the back (which I had expected at this stage) and of course, as nice as it looked on the dress form, I would never be able to wear it. So, I thought about what my husband might do if faced with a situation where he had run out of, say, duct tape, and decided I could remove the collar to just past the shoulder seams, cut it at the mid-back, measure the gap, insert a piece of contrasting fabrics as if it were a design element (!) and sew it back on. So that’s what I did.
But really, there was a 1 3/8 inch gap when I took it off.
Had I changed the size of the neckline when I transferred it to my own bodice? Had I cut the collar out incorrectly? So, I went back to the original pattern from the book, measured the neckline, then measured the one on my pattern. The length, curve, everything was the same. So, I measured my collar pattern piece and compared it to the collar pattern provided in the book. Identical. I have no idea what I did wrong.
I really love the idea of a tunic that fits well and lends itself to so many possibilities, but this one isn’t it. I won’t be making his particular one again, but some day I’ll make it work!
I suppose that when I embarked on learning how to recreate a Little French Jacket, Chanel-style, just over a year ago, I thought that it might diminish my obsession with this iconic Chanel piece. Well, since then I have completed two of the little beauties, and am obsessed with making a third. But this time, I plan on learning some new things. Before I get to that, I want to revisit what I love about them so much in case I miss something new that needs to be added to my “need-to-learn” list.
As I begin this process, I return to a few of the resources I started with so long ago.
One of the first places I need to revisit is a video of the way these jackets are made…
“Secrets of the Little Black Jacket”
Okay, that’s fantastic information, but as I said I discovered that before my first one. Now, I’ve found an “Inside Chanel” newer one that give me at least two new insights…
I had never considered that making the waist slightly higher will give that closer fit, but I take note of that this time around. And the notion of a sleeve cigarette is new to me, but would solve the slight droop in the shoulder that I am prone to in unstructured pieces since I have sloped shoulders. So this video is a new resources. But I will use others.
Here is my list of resources and what I’ll take from each one:
The Craftsy course on “The Iconic Tweed Jacket.” This is where I actually started. The course is clear, easy to follow and the instructor is precise. This was my complete guide the first time I embarked on this journey and I’ll refer back to it. However, I have since learned that it is “Little French Jacket light” in a way. That being said, it was mandatory for me to do it this way first. And I think the product was pretty good. My first jacket, below, was from Vogue 7975, collarless, open front, of a wonderful bouclé tweed lined with silk charmeuse. It is less trimmed than I had intended (see my post regarding the machinations I went through to come to this conclusion), because it just didn’t look right to me. The truth is that I absolutely love this jacket and have worn it with a dress, jeans and everything in between. And it feels divine. My second LFJ was made from the same pattern, although I drafted my own full-length sleeves. Made of a true bouclé fabric, it is lined with a printed lining that did not comply with my own rule: line only with silk. I fell in love with the pattern on the lining fabric so ignored the fact that it is a polyester blend. I do love the jacket, but because it is not pure silk inside, the feel of it on the body doesn’t even come close to my first one. It doesn’t breathe, so can only be worn in the winter. But I did layer the trim and liked the effect. Lesson here: I will use only silk – and my preference is silk charmeuse – for lining, regardless of how much I love a patterned non-silk.
My second resource this time will be Claire Schaeffer’s book The Couture Cardigan Jacket with its included DVD. She presents a terrific amount of information on authentic Chanel jackets and her technique is a step beyond what was taught in the Craftsy course. I’ll use her approach to cutting and marking in particular. I will work only with seam lines, never seam allowance edges for a perfect fit, and I will thread-trace each and every fabric piece. Yikes, I think I’m tired already!
The third resource I’m using is Susan Khalje’s Craftsy course on the Couture Dress. Yes, I’m working on the muslin of this dress project as we speak, but it is her approach especially to muslin production that I will use in this new LFJ project.
My own past blog posts will also be a resource for me. When I started this blog, I did it as a kind of reference for myself. And if anyone else found it entertaining or useful along the way, well, that’s the advantage of a blog over a journal!
And finally, the pattern I’ve selected this time is Claire Schaeffer’s Vogue 8804 which is actually designed for the Chanel-esque process: couture hand sewing, machine quilting etc. What’ interesting about this pattern is the instructions. They are exceptionally detailed and full of her actual tips and tricks.
I want to learn a few new tricks – and have a jacket that is a bit different from the previous ones. Here are some of the new things I will incorporate:
I love the idea of having a collection of clothes designed and fitted specifically for me – clothes that suit my lifestyle and my aesthetic, and fit me to perfection. The only way that this is happening is if I do it myself. First and foremost, though, I know that everything starts with an idea. And in spite of the fact that I think I know what I want, when it comes to putting pencil to paper and creating that first series of sketches, I’m not so sure that what comes out in the end will be any different than what hangs on the ready-to-wear racks. Or maybe it will. I just need to give some thought to how this creative process plays out.
Some years ago I developed and taught an undergraduate university course in creativity as applied to corporate communications. It was such fun and my students absolutely loved it. We spent a summer school semester exploring how that creative process works and what it means to be a creative person. I created for them a complete workbook for the course (maybe I should publish it!) which guided all of us through various ways of looking at creativity and processes for tapping into our potential. Here is what the introduction to the workbook said:
“You should have figured out by now that before you can “create” anything – whether it is a brochure, an academic paper, or a new recipe for frittata — something happens in your mind first. So, you need to start thinking about what Freud said: “Insanity is continuing to do the same things and expecting different results.” Put those two ideas together and you may begin to understand that you first have to change the way you think about things if you expect to come up with new, imaginative and creative approaches to anything – whether it is solving a client’s PR problem, writing a song or choreographing a new dance.”
And in the margin I had placed the following quote from Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way (a book I highly recommend):
No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too silly to work on your creativity.
…so now it seems that I need to take my own advice. I started by considering how some of my favourite designers (Diane Von Furstenberg, Eileen Fisher, Karl Lagerfeld, Erdem & Smythe – an eclectic collection to be sure!), might approach the process. My research led me to the following conclusions:
Fashion designers are inspired continually by the world around them.
There is nothing magical about their creative processes.
I happened upon a video – a TED talk – that designer Isaac Mizrahi gave a few years back where he describes his own process. One of the ways he is inspired is what I call creative cross-training. He doesn’t’ call it that, but I always called it that for my students and myself. Here’s what he said…
For me, creative cross training means pursuing different creative pursuits and allowing them to feed one another. Just last year I wrote a guest blog post called Finding Writing Inspiration in Creative Cross-Training for a writer friend (I think I might just have outed myself in my other life and persona!). As I describe in the post, I stumbled on the idea when I signed up for a sketching course many years ago with the idea that I could improve my observational skills. I hoped that these would contribute to my writing. Well, they did, but I also discovered that I was actually finding not only improved observational skills, but also inspirational ideas. So, Isaac performs and designs and does other creative things. I write (various things), design, sew and do a bit of sketching. So, back to how other designers get their ideas.
As I surfed through various articles about where individual designers find inspiration, a number of themes emerged. Here is a list of places that were mentioned again and again…
on the street
listening to music
reliving lost personal memories
…and for me, I’m inspired by my own lifestyle. In fact, the first completely-me-created design that I have been writing about for the past few posts, seemed to be completely the result of wanting a nice piece that would withstand a day of walking in the heat of summer in the city.
As of today, I have cut out and begun sewing the final garment. But here’s a bit of a refresher about how it evolved…
I’m going to start being more observant and keep journals for design the way I have been doing for years for my writing. I’m excited to see where it takes me!
Here are some of the online places I visited for my research.
I remember it as if it were last month – and not decades ago. I can feel myself walking into the Home Economics sewing room at Prince Arthur Junior High School. It was like a kind of playroom for a certain nerdy young woman who was struggling with the relative importance of trigonometry versus Home ‘Ec.’ The priority that should be given to passion for mathematics and science was in direct competition with an infatuation with style and fashion. I was in grade nine and this was the last year I could take Home Ec sewing before I had to get serious. “A” students simply didn’t take Home Ec in senior high. [You remember Home Ec? Sometimes called domestic science – now in the twenty-first century has morphed into something called “family and consumer sciences.”]
The room was large and airy with the requisite wall-to-wall windows that are the hallmark of traditionally designed schools. Home economics students who were in the cooking class (and by “home economics students” I mean girls) had to walk through the sewing room to get to that even larger room: the kitchen. Sewing students also had to take cooking – a situation that I fervently lamented, although nowadays I really do love to cook. I can’t remember learning much else than how to make a white sauce then, though. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what one would do with this sauce. I have since learned…but back to the sewing room.
The walls were lined with Singer sewing machines. In the centre of the room were two large cutting tables. I have little memory of anyone else in the class, but I do remember cutting out my very first sewing project: a blue corduroy, V-neck jumper. It was a plain A-line with a back zipper (!) and facings. I remember feeling proud of myself for having chosen the V-neck version rather than the round neck when I heard the teacher say that it was, in fact, more difficult to construct the V-neck with facing, and get the point of the V precisely correct than it was to sew in the round-neck facing. When I did get that point exactly right, I think it was then I knew that I had to learn more.
And I learned so much in those classes. I had three years of junior-high school sewing classes, then I was on my own. There was certainly no time in the academic schedule to take anything extra – and in any case, as awful as it sounds now – the smart kids just didn’t take home economics. No matter. I continued to make my clothes for years after that until a time when I got too busy with career and family and had more disposable income. One of the reasons I sewed my clothes as a teen-ager and young adult was so that I could have better and more clothing: it cost less. I also sewed for my sisters and occasionally my mom. Here are two patterns I whipped up then.
Just this past week I read something online from a sewer-person who opined that it was now more expensive to sew clothing these days than to buy it. There was much commiserating and sighing about this one. I respectfully disagree.
Okay, if you’re satisfied and happy with fast-clothing made in sweat shops of questionable fabric and mediocre-quality finishing, then go for it. But you might do yourself a real service and consider reading the book Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. When I reviewed this book on my writing blog some time ago I said this: “…The author, Elizabeth Cline is an American journalist whose commitment to the investigation of the North American penchant for disposable fashion resulted in a story that had my head spinning – although much of it did not come as a surprise – and I avoid disposable fashion like the plague, given my penchant for quality…”
Sewing on the other hand provides me with the kind of quality fabrics and finishes that might otherwise be out of reach. Take my passion for the Chanel-style “Little French Jacket.” With price tags in the multi-thousands of dollars, they’re out of the question. But I am now able to create a reasonable facsimile with hand finishes and silk charmeuse linings that feel divine and that I love to wear. They’ll be in my closet for a long time. That’s value you just can’t get with fast-fashion.
There is also something about knowing that you created it. The piece you sew is never quite the same as someone else’s even if you use the same pattern. I just have to go on the Craftsy site to see other versions of my Little French Jacket made following the same course. Lordy they vary!
Then, of course, there’s the fit issue. My obsession with getting the fit just right has already taken me through learning about creating my own sloper. And I thought it fit so well. Well, for those of you who think I was gloating about my perfectly-fitting sloper/bodice block, you can start gloating in earnest now. I have had to tweak it.
I’ve begun learning about design by creating a variety of necklines. As I mock them up from my sloper, I’ve found a tiny problem that pushes its way into each project like a kind of virus. Every time I create something, it seems that the shoulders are just a tiny bit high and a tiny bit long – and it’s driving me crazy. So, what’s my current project? Starting over with drafting my sloper! Yes, I started again at the beginning and am close to a newly, well-fitted bodice block.
They never really taught me about fit in Home Ec class. Slavishly following the pattern was de rigeur and got us high marks. Good thing I was pretty tall, slim and straight in those days! Things fit, but now it’s not so simple.
My design ambitions will have to wait. Fit comes first!
In another life, I’m actually a writer. I’ve written magazine articles, corporate materials, online courses materials, blog pieces of various sorts and even a dozen or so books. Throughout my writing career I’ve always been obsessed with notebooks – and this obsession has spilled over into my sewing mania. I have a sewing notebook (or three) but have yet to figure out precisely the right one for me on an on-going basis. For me to be able to do this I need to do two things: first, I need to research what’s available and what other sewers use (for ideas), and second, I need to figure out exactly what I’ll use the notebooks (journals) for. Maybe I should start there.
For me as a writer, those notebooks /journals are largely for capturing ideas. They’re a kind of creative repository that I can access any time. I turn to them whenever I have an idea or a part of an idea or an idea of an idea. Later I turn to them when I have no ideas at all and need to be prodded into coming up with something new. Then I use individual notebooks to capture ideas for individual projects. I have a lot of notebooks!
Years ago in another lifetime when I was a university professor, I designed and taught a course on creativity in communications. One of the books I recommended for my students was The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by the exceptionally creative Twyla Tharp, American choreographer extraordinaire. (If you’re unfamiliar with her work, just go to Mr. Google. You’ll see that you’re not all that unfamiliar!) Ms. Tharp uses quite a different approach to gathering her creative ideas for projects. Rather than notebooks or journals, she uses boxes. Here’s what she says about her boxes:
“Everyone has his or her own organizing system. Mine is a box, the kind you buy at Office Depot for transferring files…I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance…notebooks, clippings, CDs, videotapes, books, photographs, pieces of art that may have inspired me…The box makes me feel connected to a project…even when I’ve back-burnered it…”
As I thought about how sewers could use her approach, I could see so many things in that box: fabric scraps, sketches, photos of inspirational looks from the web, inspirational buttons, samples of trims, copies of artwork, the DVD of a movie that caught my eye and whose wardrobe I loved… well, you get the picture. I love the idea of this kind of a creativity box, but I don’t really have space to store so many boxes, so I’m back to square one in my search for the perfect journal/notebook.
My favourite kind of notebook is a Moleskine™ – the brand Hemingway used to make his notes. They actually make some specialty notebooks such as a travel journal, but they don’t make one for sewers. But some sewers among us do, and others have suggestiosn about how to use a three-ring notebook. Here’s some of what I found in my research on what others do.
I like the “Colette Sewing Planner” https://www.colettepatterns.com/catalog/colette-sewing-planner but it still isn’t perfect for me. “Supplies I have”, ”supplies I need” list spaces are a good idea. Some resources such a page on needle sizes and their uses. Nice. But a kind of reference-cum-notebook. A hybrid if you will.
But the writer in me (who has a separate notebook for each book-length writing project and a couple of generic ones!), needs a notebook to fulfil a host of objectives. The first one is to keep a record of ideas that flit across my brain unbidden usually when I’m supposed to be doing something else. The second is to record project details – for example, when I do test pieces before actually sewing a seam finish or when selecting stitch length and thread – so that as the project progresses, I can refer back (only an issue for those of us engaged in slow sewing I reckon! Everyone else just remembers for a few hours!). I also need a notebook for creative organization and for the sheer joy of going back to re-visit (so it has to be more than a place to record).
I recently stumbled on a neat online challenge: “SWAP 2017” aka “Sewing with a Plan.” Such an interesting idea. The rules include the following:
“Eleven garments divided between Upper, Lower and Over pieces. These are tops and dresses; bottoms; and layers, all defined later. There are minimums and maximums in each category, to provide balance and variety. You decide the final distribution.
Upper: Minimum 3, maximum 5.
Lower: Minimum 3, maximum 5.
Over: Minimum 2, maximum 5. No more than ½ may be outerwear.
You decide how many of each, within the numbers above, to total 11 garments.
Your twist: Each garment in a category must work with at least half of the garments in each of the other two categories. Example 5 Upper, 3 Lower, and 3 Over. Each upper would need to work with 2 Lower and 2 Over garments.”
It occurs to me that if you want to enter this sewing challenge, you will indeed need some kind of a notebook to plan, which further leads me to believe that planning each sewing project is a good thing – at least for me. So a journal or notebook for me needs to be both a creative repository as well as a kind of sewing diary or log to return to either to enjoy revisiting a project, or to use the past experience for a future project. Of course I could research and find an electronic notebook or app for this purpose, but that’s for another time!
Am I any closer to the Holy Grail of sewing notebooks? Closer perhaps, but not there yet!
(PS you evidently have to be a member at Artisan’s Square to enter the 2017 SWAP – but you could just to the challenge for yourself – I might just do that in the new year!)
 Twyla Tharp. 2003. The Creative Habit. pp. 80-81.
A few years ago I stumbled on a book that I found so useful (and entertainingly written) that I bought it in hardcover and have actually read at least three times (something I almost never do). It even survived the great purge of 2014 when we sold our large property and moved to a downtown condo!
The book is called What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life – and I’m rereading it yet again. Written by former fashion editor Kim Johnson Gross, it’s unlike most other books out there purporting to be the final word on what we should appropriate fashion style for women of a certain age. Instead of trying to tell us what we should be wearing, Kim commiserates with us about the kinds of changes in our lives that necessitate a bit of a re-think about our closets, then uses her considerable experience to help the rest of us see how to move forward. There are no all-encompassing platitudes that suggest, “Women over a certain age should never wear…” No, none of that. She does, however, believe that we are influenced by our closets!
Early on in the book she says, “Closets are powerful. They contain the power to make us feel fat, fit, frumpy, or fabulous.”
She also reminds us that our closets hold memories, dreams, frustrations etc. They tell the story of our lives. Sometimes I wonder what story mine tells – I do a complete clean out twice a year. Anyway, last week when I was learning dart manipulation and discovered that I owned very few pieces of clothing with darts, it occurred to me that I had been shaping my closet for a while now. My sewing and design projects reflect this.
Along with learning to design, I’ve been playing around with various types of knit fabric since my reshaping suggests that these will continue to play a large part in my wardrobe life. To that end, I finished a tunic that I’d been eyeing in my pattern “stash” (I really hate that word – going to find a new one!), so when I found some lightweight knit I liked, I thought I’d embark on this “fast & easy” project. As anyone who has been reading along with my musings knows, I don’t seem to know how to do “fast & easy.” [See my last fast & easy project.]
This cutout-then-whip-up tunic took hours and hours of pinning, sewing unpicking, seam stabilizing, and yes, even hand-basting. Oh, and let us not forget that I cut out the sleeves for the view I selected only to discover (after hand-basting them in) that I hated their floppy bell-like shape and had to remove them and re-cut the narrower one!
Along the way I also learned how to use the double needle in my sewing machine! I know everyone else probably already uses this on a regular basis, but it was a new experience for me and I think I got it!
Anyway, the style and fabrication are two parts of what I’ve been thinking about in terms of what’s in my own closet. Neither of these elements – no matter how right they seem to me – can exist independently. The right style constructed from the right fabric for that style is an absolute requirement for my clothes. Add onto that the element of fit, and what I have are the three essential components to having a closet full of clothes that make me feel wonderful. Although Kim Gross doesn’t offer all-or-nothing rules for our evolving closets, she does give us a couple of guidelines that I think are especially important:
“Fit is critical to looking your best.” This is why I wanted a personal bodice sloper – and why creating a persona pants sloper is on my to-do list.
“Don’t follow fashion trends. Wear what looks good on your body.” This is why I’m learning to design my own clothes!
Well, I’m going to take these guidelines to heart as I move onto my next project – which is a new Chanel-style Little French Jacket! I have found some new bouclé that I love, and already have a well-fitting muslin of the pattern – so off I go!
Details on Kim Johnson Gross’s book: What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style. New York: Springboard Press, 2010.