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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon



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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The tenement museum

One of the most affecting things we did in New York was visit the Tenement Museum, a walking tour of a tenement, organized by my smart son.

Really if you are in NYC you have to do this.

From the sewing point of view it was interesting to see how the garment workers managed, and the conditions in which the earlier home-based piece workers lived and worked.

Absolutely unbelievable.

What has stuck with me most though is a story about Fanny Rosenthal. Fanny lived in one two room apartment (toilet down the hall) with her husband and five children. Her husband died young from TB (he was a garment presser) and she stayed on there after the kids had grown and gone.

Over time the building owner decided that to bring the building up to code was going to be too expensive, and he asked all the tenants to move out.

Fanny refused. Refused to leave the place she had first lived in when she arrived in America, raised her family, lost her husband. 

In the end the building owner upgraded her apartment only and she lived on there in one apartment surrounded by every other apartment vacant in the building alone for 14 years.

This story really got to me. For a start as a social person I find the thought of living alone in a vacant building for all that time horrifying. Just imagine that. At the same time I also understood her. 

I understood that when Fanny looked out her window she wasn't seeing the street as it was, but she could still see her own children playing out there, her husband coming home from work. Those were her best years and she didn't want to walk out of that apartment and close that particular, precious, door behind her.

At the same time I heard that her kids eventually forced her to move, they still lived in New York, in other places where they had moved on. It made me wonder what Fanny missed in those 14 years. What listening could she have done to her complicated adult children, new times she could have shared, grandchildren maybe playing on other streets.

It made me think of sewing, and of grainline. You know how sometimes when something doesn't hang right? Often it's because the grain is off, the pattern piece is not parallel to the selvage like it's supposed to be?

What do you do? You can't change the arrow on the pattern piece, can you. If that's your direction of grain that's your direction of grain. But you know what you can do? Rearrange the pattern piece on the fabric, move it a little bit. Sometimes you just have to do it.

Then it works.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The New York garment district though my eyes

It's been almost two weeks since I got back from New York and I have still to write about my experiences in the garment district (where I also stayed, just in case).

There is a lot to digest. And as I am sure nearly every other blogger has a better knowledge of this community than I do,  what I have to say probably isn't very complete, insightful, or useful.

However if you are a person who is tied to finding whatever they can at the local big box or small box chain fabric store, or someone who orders online and dreams of a world where the fabric is as big as your dreams, if you haven't spent much actual time in this part of the big city yourself, well these are my thoughts.

1. I have seen this part before, the remnants of the schmatta business, from friends of my mother's who used to manufacture in Montreal before re-locating production to China. To a New Yorker what isn't there any more is probably as acutely apparent as what is. The garment district of today is an echo I suspect. But still...

Yes, there are innumerable small shops ( apart from Mood they are all pretty small) selling enormous quantities of sequined chiffon and stuff most of us don't wear, but the actual garment fabric stores that sewers look for are wonderful, but quite numerable.

What you find in the garment district is real quality, not quantity, get that straight.

2. Look up. If you bring your eyes from home you are going to expect to see the best stores on the street. Not so. Mood and Metro for example are on floors in what looks like office buildings - you go into an elevator just like you are going to the dentist except the doors open and there is fabric - messy, gorgeous fabric. Much better.

3. The area is a subsidiary of the garment industry not the home sewing industry, so this is a place for different, for distinctive more than it is for staples.

I understand now why sewists who live in New York (yes that would be you Carolyn) still buy big from places like Fabricmart. The garment district is where you find boucles, mohairs, tweeds, wool and silk jerseys, but not a place where you load up on bargain pant weight for instance.

I got myself some nice Linton tweed and some $40 a yard wool jersey with yarn sort of couched on it and I am still short the pant weight.

But lack of bargains aside ( although I got an excellent deal on the Linton tweed) did I like it there?

You have no idea.

Do you ever have those moments where you just wonder where all the good fabric has gone? Do you ever go into the local fabric store and decide that you are just so tired of trying to persuade yourself that a blend is the same as, that maybe polyesters do actually breath? Do you just walk in and walk out because you just aren't in the mood that day to lower your expectations?

Do you ever just wonder if you will see real fabric again in your life time? The 100% thing, the best there is, the fabric you won't do anything less than your best job on, because that is what it requires?

Do you ever wonder if it's all gone?

Well in the garment district it's all there, an outpost really, of when fabric was fine.  You can shop there like they did in the 1920s, the 1950's with your hands in fabric that would have met standards then and meets them now.

To a sewer, going to the garment district is just well, a relief.

A relief.

And here are my pictures:

My coat of a few weeks ago on the street with my most excellent and beautiful son Nat walking beside me. He looks like he belongs there doesn't he? He does.
The famous Mood Fabrics which is vast and organized and on several levels in a big building.

Me at Metro. Note the trance like look on my face, your face looks like that if you finally are in a place you have been trying to get to for thirty years. Note the calculator adding it all up.

Metro Textiles, on a 9th floor I think. A tiny space with fabric rolls and rolls deep. It reminded me of my husband's garage - only the owner knows where what's what but everything still seems to be there.

Will I go back?

You better believe it. As soon as I can. If there was such a thing as a garment district passport I would apply for it. 

Now next time, or sometime, if you want to meet up with me there, just email me direct so we can find each other.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Conspiracy theory

My friend Robin over at a sewing on the side has been making some Style Arc pants lately and having the same extreme success we all have had with those patterns.

I made three pairs of Linda pants in ponte for my trip away. They were perfect. Super comfortable, with a waistband suitable for sitting for long periods of time in restaurants and on airplanes, but with a leg that looked like real tailored pants.

Most of all the best thing about these pants are the fit. Right out of the envelope with these minor, made-for-me adjustments:

1. My waist is 1.5" bigger than the hip measurement of the size I bought. This is no surprise to me. I added 3/4" to the front seam tapering down to normal by the crotch.

2. See belly above and also the ample rear end. I added 1" to the waistline at top at CF and CB and then tapered back to usual by the side seams.

The result is a perfect, perfect fit.

I have made the exact same alterations to the Kerry Cargo pants which I made once in a poplin as pants, and once cut shorter as shorts.

Yes, family members no need to tell me the photos on my blog suck, but you folks are out of town and Rascal's paw shakes when he holds the camera and the shots are too blurry to use. So it's the old back-of-the-door shots:

Yes too I know these are just your old elastic waist units, however the cut is so good that once on and the elastic expanded to Babs size they look smooth and excellent. You have to trust me on this until I can get a photographer around here.

Now get ready for the rave.

I have been trying to make pants that fit since 1972 (yes I know you weren't born yet, but pants fitting was no easier then than now). 

I have made gingham muslins, tried 47 different perfect fit patterns (some documented on this blog). I have taken classes, taught classes,  pinched, tweeked, taken in and let out.

I have pivoted and slid. I have cloned and drafted. I have bought software, tracing paper, broken countless mechanical pencils, and used more Scotch tape than Christmas.

I have spent enough money on this to have paid for medical school. That is if medical schools accepted people who stopped taking math in Grade Nine (thank you thank old school system of the province of Quebec which had a very francophone view of the importance of arts and languages).

Despite all of this I have still, no matter how much I have tried to convince myself that it was only an issue of not standing right in my clothes, had:

1. A sort of space at the front that would have accommodated a fanny pouch, that is if I wanted to wear one under my pants as sort of a security measure to thwart pick pockets on my travels.
2. A rear end that pulled down when I sat, exposing my vast collection of old lady underwear.
3. Diagonal wrinkles on the inside of my legs that only moved to new places when I tried to get rid of them.

I am not the only one this has happened to.

What if - this is where the conspiracy theory comes in - the problem was pants patterns for sewers that were drafted not to fit nearly anybody, and not me? 

Or you?

What if a decent pants draft reduces pant fitting problems to human-sized tasks?

What if there was one or two simple tweaks you could do to every pants pattern that a particular organization produced and every one of those pants patterns fit?

Style Arc has made me suspect this might be true.

To my relief another Style Arc order arrived just in the nick of time yesterday, with the Peta pants Robin made, and with the Sasha blouse too.

I am attaching the pattern shot of the Sasha to show you why I am just as optimistic about this pattern.  

Note the shaping of the collar stand and collar, compared to the ruler straight units we usually see, the small front armhole versus the back and the high sleeve cap.