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.
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.
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.
Thankfully for anyone reading my blog regularly or even only occasionally, I rarely rant. Today, however, I need a bit of rant space. Today I’m thinking about fashion (couture sewing is related to fashion, n’est ce pas?) with a particular emphasis on what passes as “fashion journalism.” In another life, I actually write other things – like books. Couple this with the fact that I’ve been a fashion magazine junkie for more years than most of you have been on the planet, I appreciate a well-written fashion-related article. There have always been those magazines that regularly demonstrate a high level of what can really be defined as fashion journalism (Vogue comes to mind), but there are so many others I have blindly stumbled upon lately that I have to vent a bit.
A lot of what passes for writing in some fashion magazines is now so riddled with jargon, secret in-talk, euphemism and oddly annoying abbreviations that we can’t help but be confused. The truth is that I’m not really a member of the demographic targeted by these magazines, but the demographic certainly is one I’d still like to understand! And I’m not dead yet, so fashion and style interest me. My question is how this demographic will be able to communicate their messages in the future. It’s no wonder that university freshmen can’t write a decent sentence.
Let’s start at the table of contents: we begin with ‘beauty inspo’, ‘fave picks’, ‘uber’ everything and of course a lot of ‘peeps’. I can let ‘favs’ and ‘fab’ go if these short-cuts are not overused. But three times on one page and we’re still only on contents!
How many times do I see ‘collab’? Really? Is it so difficult to spell out collaboration? Even with an online dictionary? And then we’re all ‘crushing on…’ something. The word ‘kicks’ for shoes has become so ubiquitous that if we really mean ‘kick’ as per the dictionary definition, we’d have a failure to communicate.
Moving on from the table of contents, I’m beginning to become very confused. I’m no longer sure of the difference between the hottest things and the coolest. Which is better? Then if we consider ‘cooler than cool’, I can’t even begin to contemplate what that might mean.
The verb ‘to rock’ (and they don’t seem to mean it in the sense of rock the boat or rock the baby) is so pervasive you can hardly go a page tap without falling over someone rocking flats, totally rocking boots, or rocking that awesome furry thing … and I’m so over being ‘all about’ anything especially if has to be hotly, coolly, uber awesome.
I guess the devil is in the ‘deets’ and the thing to do is to acquire ‘must-have prods’. I kid you not…prods, and not that kind they use on cattle.
This publication actually refers to its content creators as journalists – intrepid ones to be precise – and these are journalists who use words/spellings like ‘cuz’ for ‘because’. Yes, they did use it. This is not Twitter peeps! And ‘combo’ could be better applied to a fast food menu. Then I’m really confused when I read that ‘burgundy gets a colour kick’ with nary a shoe in sight in this instance. Is a kick now a kick or a jolt or a …? Of course it wouldn’t be a mag targeted toward young women without a ‘bestie’ or two.
And now sunglasses are ‘sunnies’ or so I inferred from the use of the term next to a photo of such. It’s starting to be a bit like learning a new language or at least the young women so entrenched will have to learn a new one for their writing classes at uni! Like that one? It’s a British-ism. Is that even a word?
Then I read about ‘sick kicks’. Are they hot? Cool? Totally anything? And ‘lippy’ means lipstick. I guess. I thought it meant mouthy, snippy, annoying.
Fave, fave, fave. I guess it would require too much typing to spell it out, or maybe they’re trying to avoid that cultural ‘or’ ‘our’ conundrum (favorite/favourite).
There is little doubt in my mind, peeps, that I’m totally uncool, and clearly unhot, cuz I crush on correct word choice and rock reasonably good spelling, and my fav authors provide me with terrific inspo. I’m also uber happy that the sun is out today and I’m totally rocking my sunnies so I’m going out for a walk. Bye-bye for now.
[Rant over. Sewing projects to continue momentarily.]