Saturday, April 4, 2009

On multiples

It is interesting how sometimes it takes someone else to bring what you do to your own attention. 

In a comment left and appreciated, like all the comments to this blog, Robin remarked on my tendency to sew in multiples. 

I hadn't really noticed I did that, but of course I do. Five pairs of pants when I found a pattern that fit, five summer dresses, and as many casual T shirts last week.

I have not always sewn this way, in fact in my recent sewing life I have had several seasons. These would include the sewing for fit (being tall makes a difference) which produced duty garments; sewing to compete, I admit this when I first discovered all virtual sewing conversations I went through a period of trying all the patterns everyone was trying and sewing what was trendy; vintage sewing (OK this involved more pattern collecting than sewing because the altering into a large size was daunting to me) and where I am now which is sewing multiples I guess. 

I don't expect this to last forever, my sewing life is always under flux, but this is why I am sewing this way these days:

1. Time. When I used to look ahead to this age and this stage I thought I would be semi-retired and pleasantly sewing couture garments in long afternoons with a tea beside me in a spotless house looking out on a beautiful garden.

Yeah right.

I am not complaining, far from it, but I am as much right in the middle of it as I always was. A switch from an intense job to teaching has just got me just as involved in new ideas, committees on new structures, tons of students, all of whom bring their issues, angst and challenges with them, and research projects. It will be a few years yet before I dismantle from the saddle. Add on to that children (my view is that as they get older and go and work on the business of building their own lives it is up to me to make sure we all stay in touch), extended family of sisters and brothers-in-laws and nieces and nephews and my mom and in-laws, and all the important and good communication that entails, which in the last few months has included one with a serious illness, kept from us, so no one would worry ...

The beautiful garden now involves a half finished garage (did I mention a DH who loves his projects?) the debris of winter and more than a few holes dug by a child's lovely golden retriever on her daycare days here. And the spotless house - well I could post some pictures but that would only make you wonder how any person could happily sit and blog with all that around her waiting to be cleaned up.

OK, so we have established that my sewing time is limited and particularly precious. 

2. ROI. Sewing is what I relax with, not cutting out, not fitting, so when I have something that works I want to get something more from my investment. Sort of like a recipe that you perfect or discover and serve again for company, or file in your head as "new old standby." There isn't always time to start or learn something new, to trace out a new pattern, fit it (heaven forbid sew a muslin), and get to the enjoyable part, which to me is the sewing.

3. Skill. The second time I make something I make it better. I can do those tweaks I decided I should have done the first time and the whole process goes faster. Completing a garment is satisfying. Perfecting a new pattern is even more so.

4. Reality. A difficult decision for me was to realize that at this stage of my life I couldn't do it all and that if I set up my sewing life under those terms and expectations I would just be adding one more place where I always felt perpetually behind, never ahead, and never satisfied. In my cooking I focus, on vegetables and sometimes desserts and leave the meat and menu planning to the French chef. In my knitting, an activity I reserve for multi-task environments like the car when I am not driving or TV, I am making only felted slippers and mitts these days (may branch out to socks) as much as I would love to make everyone I care about a sweater. One day.

I do have rules though for multiple sewing and these are what they are:

1. Only cut and make one edition of a potential TNT pattern first off. As much as you think it will work it might not.

2. Even if your edition one (I just thought really good books, like textbooks, are both reprinted and reissued - nothing wrong with that) is great - never and I repeat never go off and cut out a bunch more until you have worn edition one for an entire day, in public. It is amazing how may little issues float to the top under the stress and challenge of wear on real moving bodies. A waistband might be too tight or loose, the neckline too wide and your bra straps show etc. you can't tell these things after a quick check in the bathroom mirror.

3. Once you have cut out your multiples sew them up one at a time, not factory style. I consider this very important. If you start sewing like a factory that is all you will feel like and there is no joy in that, that's why they unionize and need a labour standards code. Remember that your sewing time is time to nurture your creative soul (and not much in this world or in ordinary life does that enough any more) so allow yourself to focus on the creation of a unique garment, even if the process becomes familiar, and to have moment when you exhale, pronounce it finished, try it on and then go find someone in the household to show what you have made. If I wanted to assembly line sew I would be making a quilt in a day.

4. Never cut out and sew more than four more of the same garment. Since you have put so much into getting this right don't ruin it all by giving yourself a chance to get sick of it, like you would if you had your favourite food every night for two weeks. Put it away and don't pull out this pattern again until you have one of those moments when you are wearing something you made and say to yourself "damn this is nice, I should make another one of those."

Works for me, where I am right now.

Friday, April 3, 2009

This is what I am thinking



A post or two ago I wrote about the how-fashionable-to-be dilemma and the significance of accessories. Here is a photo from the G20 photostream that shows exactly what I am thinking. This shot is of Mme. de Silva from Brazil and is very interesting for several reasons. They are:

1. She looks so chic. Relaxed, comfortable and fashionable. Notice the simplicity of what she is wearing, a good quality fabric ( I would say silk), covered buttons, shawl collar and simple solid shell. She could wear this suit for years.
2. Ease. Not too fitted and the skirt has a surprising amount of ease, probably comfortable for sitting and walking. Those wives, probably very accomplished women in their own lives, get stuck doing a lot of that at these events I am sure.
3. Classic and careful grooming. Notice the nails, nice make-up, good jewelry but only simple earrings.
4. OK look at that purse. Colourful and interesting, expresses her personality and makes her look stylish and hip and raises the whole outfit from matronly to fashionable.

I often think that many sewers, like the one who writes this blog, spend far too much money on fabric and patterns and find it hard to allocate cash to just accessories. How many of us custom our purses and say earrings to every outfit? How many of us default to the old standbys like my silver hoops?

By contrast I would like to offer up other approaches to being fashionable as put forward in this Spring's Vogue's new releases:

 I rest my case.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

This weekend's sewing





In about a week we are off on our much needed road trip to the US. To chill out from demanding jobs and to see a son, sightsee, and of course fabric shop. The itinerary, which my spouse always engineers, does not show a lot of laundromat time, as I think I have said, so I decided this weekend to search the stash and try out an Ottobre T shirt pattern. I took the suggestion made for larger sizes and added an extra 1 1/2" to the front piece for bust ease, gathering this extra up in the side seams about 1/2" below the arm hole. It worked very well and was such a quick fix for the extra bust ease I needed.  Speaking of which these are not glamour shots, my sewing hair and my sewing bra (does anyone else have one of those?) - these pictures remind me why I wear my serious bras in my real life (but oh my kingdom for a comfortable supportive bra - my sister keeps telling me to take the time and get properly fitted so I can achieve both the hoist and comfort - but this is another discussion for another day isn't it?) but forget the hair and the bustline - look at the tops. Since I am taking black and grey pants and skirts with me I am feeling very coordinated with these tops and took enormous pleasure out of making five nice new T shirts all out of comfortable rayon and cottons.

My favourite is the striped top with the black neckline. I am not sure that I didn't have a top just like this when I was in kindergarten. And the sleeveless tank, obviously made from left-overs has a bow in the middle because guess who put the binding on and realized that the join was centre front?

Anyone else ever find that when they make a mistake it is always, always at centre front?

Details and how hard should it be?


Like you all here I spend a shocking amount of time plotting my wardrobe additions, pattern surfing and fabric considering. About a month ago my DD came over and brought me this purse. She said she knew I would appreciate a big red bag but  I probably wouldn't get one for myself.

I was really pleased with it and started taking this bag with me to work. The thing is that it was amazing how many of my students and colleagues complimented me on it, on my style, and just how sharp I felt carrying it.

This made me think about accessories and the fact that I get so caught up in making garments that I don't pay as much attention as I should to what real estate agents call "staging" - the little details that bring out the best in a place, or in this case, a middle-aged sewer.

Look at BWOF. I was doing that this week and noticed just how heavily accessorized the fashion shots are, how much the style of the garment is brought out by great jewelry, gloves, shoes and bags. Take all those accessories out of the picture and would the same garment be as attractive? It's an interesting exercise. Look at Shannon's blog for truly inspirational and instructional information on her nail care regime - hands like those are going to make any outfit look its snappy.

And here's another thought to add to it. Maybe it's the recession, maybe its my own sewing audit that has revealed my assumptions, time, and energy don't add up, but I have been thinking a lot about things like how much do I really need in my closet, what garments really suit me, how do I do more, or at least better, with less, or at least enough?

The concept of enough is interesting.

To me it is about reaching a point of satisfaction with what you have made or are making, of taking time to enjoy what you have done and when you wear it. Really what words would you rather have in your head about your sewing? "I am so far behind with my projects" or "I love  what I have just made myself."?

Not a hard call to make.

This brings me to the complicated question of fashion. By definition fashion changes and is about the next thing, not the present thing. Some fashions do last however, the trick is to pick the right ones. Think the 70s and a Halston dress and then say plaid bell-bottoms. Chic lasts.

Sometimes I make something fashionable and I am not comfortable in it. Right now I am wearing a twist top T shirt I made a few years ago and I only wear it on home days. Somehow it feels gimmicky to me. This top never made me feel great, it only, for a brief time made me feel in fashion and that was never quite enough.

My red bag is another story. I feel cool with it now and as I haven't invested time and energy making it when its day is past that will be fine with me. What I will keep is my appreciation of my kind and thoughtful daughter.

So before I wear myself out trying to keep up with fashion, maybe I should focus that need on accessories, on polish, and use my sewing time, that is about so much more to me that the production of stylish clothes, for things worth making and saving.

For favourites. 

After all there are few things in life as sweet as sewing yourself something and knowing as soon as you try it on that this one is destined for favourite status - something that will give you as much pleasure day after day as it did in the making. Two sets of memories in garments like these and very worthwhile use of sewing time.

So what constitutes a potential favourite?

I am just working this out but have come up with three working criteria:

1. Fabric - I just can't get into either making or wearing something if I am not nuts about the fabric. Beautiful fabric is one of the huge and permanent joys of life - right up there with the happiness of a dog, a good deep sleep, a hot bath and a mystery novel where you like the people, friends you don't have to pretend to be better than you are with, and pressing a seam in cotton.

2. Simple styles - I am as easily distracted by the bright shiny object as the next sewer but simple clothes suit me best. I am a tall, curveless girl from the Canadian Prairies, and elaborate doesn't look right on me, maybe it is the look on my face. Minimal is my genre.

3. Timeless, within reason. See simple above. If I like something I like it to last, sometimes I think the thought of throwing out good clothes because they are no longer in fashion this year is causing hundreds of frugal prairie farmers to do a synchronized flip in their graves. On a more sophisticated level see Halston, also timeless doesn't have to mean style-less, in fact if you do it right it should be style that transcends - that's a good word.

All worth thinking about, as sewing alway is.