Thursday, January 10, 2013

Top Of The Tickle List

A friend was over for coffee yesterday. We discussed getting things done. She works full time. I don't. Her job requires flexibility. Mine doesn't. She'll be working on one project and suddenly she's to leave it and move to a different one. That would drive me absolutely crazy. I am flexible within a routine. My daily schedule is in virtually the same order every day and I prefer to start and finish one project at a time. It's what works best for me.

Right now - as in it could change before Monday - the plan for next week is to sew several basic - most likely black - t-shirts. My wardrobe is desperate. It's reaching a critical stage. Only sewing basic t-shirt after basic t-shirt is boring so I've been thinking about sewing a t-shirt and working on a piece of jewelry at the same time in some sort of alternating way like an hour here and an hour there. The concern for me is not can I sew five t-shirts or can I create a piece of jewelry, it's can I do them at the same time in the same space? For some people that's not even a question. For me, it's not at all how I work and it might not even be important to learn how to work that way but it's an interesting question.

With the new year, there's been a lot of discussion about sewing basics... or cake... or frosting. Since my return to fashion sewing, I've tried a few SWAPs, sew-a-longs, and similar plans and they always seem to suck the joy out of sewing. As soon as I have to sew in some way, I don't want to. Part of how I decide what to sew is by following up interesting questions. Can I sew a bra? Can I sew jeans? Can I adapt this pattern to look like that RTW garment? Can I learn this new technique? Can I make this garment fit my figure? I'm curiosity driven.

Where I'm the most flexible within the studio is with what I sew and typically the project of the moment is whatever was top of the tickle list - anything from practical to party. Sorting through my photographs pointed out that most of what I wear, I sew and most of what I sew I don't wear. It's only a small portion of what was sewn that actually makes it into wardrobe rotation. That's a curious observation. It leads to the questions why and how can I up that ratio so that almost everything I sew gets worn? Why do I sew what I sew?

It's not about money. A lot of women tell me they stopped sewing when it became less expensive to buy the garment than it was to sew it. Every time I hear that line of reasoning there's a part of me that wants to ask where they shop because it's rare that the garment I sewed is more expensive than a purchased one of similar quality. For me, sewing is about quality, about entertaining myself, about stretching my brain and my creativity, and about fit, fun, and flatter.




When I started fashion sewing again several years ago, I wanted to learn how to sew bras and jeans and when I started knitting again, I wanted to learn how to knit socks. I've studied every possible sock knitting method and I've knit several pairs and I don't like knitting socks or how they feel on my feet. I can buy two dozen socks in two seconds flat and they'll last for a year. Good enough. On the other hand, the bras that I sew fit about the same as my favourite RTW bra so I buy basic black and white bras and sew ones with more expensive and colorful fabrics and prettier lace. The panties I sew are way, Way, WAY more comfortable than anything I can buy so I sew them in basic colors and in matching sets with the bras, sets being something I'd never bought due to sizing and expense.




My husband brought this fabric back from Guatemala and I used Burda 7500 to sew a pair of pants with a cuffed and pleated hem and an elastic waistline. The fabric has a gold metallic thread in it that was itchy so the pants are fully lined. Both my sons think they look like pj pants and my daughter thinks they're quite ugly. I absolutely LOVE them. The are so comfortable that I made another pair in a striped grey and both get worn regularly.




Being a gift, the Guatemala pair was free. The grey pair was sewn for $5.00 with fabric bought in the bargain center. When I wore them in June at the DOL workshop, Marcy complimented me on the pants and said she really liked the fabric.  I mention that only to illustrate that I'm not deluding myself about finding good deals on fabric. Until I returned to sewing, I didn't have any clothes of this nature because they are typically quite expensive. Before sewing, the clothes I would buy I couldn't afford and the clothes I could afford I wouldn't buy. It was a dilemma. Now, I can afford to sew them.





I sewed the jeans I'm wearing in the picture above. They fit me far better than any I can buy. I wear jeans regularly and once my weight is settled, would like to sew more mainly for the fit and the style lines. I hate being held hostage by whatever is in style. I prefer to wear what flatters me. The wool jacket is sewn from Vogue 8459. I was curious to see if I could sew a jacket that fit well and, if I could, would I wear it. Yes... I could... and no... I wouldn't. Since making the jacket almost three years ago, I've worn it twice. That's good learning. I am far more likely...




... to wear a skirt like this one from Mary Adams' book The Party Dress Book. It's sewn in a method she calls crazy applique that's layered and involves threadwork. It's exactly the kind of project I really enjoy working on and there would most likely be less hours invested in sewing this skirt than in sewing the jacket plus I'd have more fun sewing it and wear it more often. That's good learning too - to both invest my time where it's fun and where it's wearable.




I've done a lot of learning with t-shirts. First I learned to sew a basic t-shirt and developed a reliable T & T pattern. From there, I started adding interior seams and details like the RTW copy  above. I evolved the basic t-shirt into a cardigan pattern and have used it to develop my own designs as well as to refashion existing sweaters. I've taken the T & T in numerous directions and have numerous more to explore because I wear knits more than any other fabric and t-shirts more than any other garment.




When I think about sewing more of the clothing I actually wear and about making those pieces more creative, I am thinking about adding details to t-shirts, skirts, pants, and cardigans. My inspiration file is full of images like the one above from Anthropologie.com. A similar piece could be easily developed from Katherine Tilton's Vogue 8691 - a fabulous pattern.

Why do you sew what you sew? What percentage of what you sew do you wear? What percentage of what you wear do you sew?

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - an understanding of the best direction for me to explore in

30 comments:

  1. Very interesting post! I sew for the same reasons you do. I want to stretch my mind and learn and have activity. I also like wearing things I make (and blogging about them). I never tire of compliments on my work :-) I wear regularly about 75 per cent of what I sew, I suspect. Maybe more. Some things just don't really get into regular rotation but I still wear them occasionally (or I give them away). I don't have a ton of hand made items just languishing in a drawer (though there are a couple). About 50 per cent of my wardrobe is hand made. It takes a long time to build up a wardrobe of hand made wares and we wear so many things that we don't even think about (like socks) which are usually store bought.

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    1. And for pure entertainment. Sewing just keeps getting more fun as my skill base develops.

      Today's chapter was called the law of curiosity. I definitely am.

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  2. This is a fascinating post! I belong to a sewing group in the greater Washington, DC area and am always intrigued by what others are sewing and how they chose that particular project. Many of them are inspired by a beautiful pattern and and make "wishful thinking" clothes - stuff for parties and balls, places they'll never go. I think they're captivated by the fantasy of it and like the fun of the special fabrics. I do tend to be guided by whismy when deciding on my next project; a fabric may guide my choice or a need in my wardrobe. I like to make things I'll really wear, so I choose my fabric carefully and stretch myself by trying to improve my technique and outcome with each project. Of course, there are STILL wadders!

    I thought this was a great observation: Before sewing, the clothes I would buy I couldn't afford and the clothes I could afford I wouldn't buy. So mnay great nuggets of wisdom today, Myrna!

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    1. Sometimes I think about sewing for whimsy, like a woman I know who just bought all the materials to sew a wedding dress simply because she wanted to. That's not me - however - I'd certainly like to add more whimsy and creativity to what I do so. That's the nice take-away from looking at all my images.

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  3. This is a great post, with so many thoughtful observations and self-reflections...

    My wardrobe is in tatters. Truly. So my goal this year is to do some stash-busting and sew like a maniac, to be frank!

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  4. Terrific post! I sew for similar reasons that you and K.Line sew....but I mostly DETEST wearing things that don't fit. And I have a style/uniform (high school teacher) and sometimes can't easily buy what I want to wear. And I love the creative outlet. For the most part, I wear all I make...although I'm now teaching at a different school so it's mostly "dress" jeans and tops rather than the business wear from years past. I really want to learn to make my own bras....I do make my own underwear and MUCH prefer it to what I buy. And LOVE ME a knit top...

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    1. YES - and the more I sew the pickier I'm getting about fit. Did you find the shift in what you're wearing to work a positive one? Is it motivating your sewing in new directions? What you're wearing sounds similar to my wanting to sew creative everyday wear.

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    2. I do find the shift to what I wear now a positive one. It's just a different kind of "uniform". The challenge now is to be professional and "put-together" but not over-dressed as I work with First Nations students and families that can be intimidated by more traditional business wear. It's been fun! I also find it hard to get good quality knits - I'm in Edmonton area, so limited to what I can find at Fabricland....a challenge!

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    3. A friend lives in the far north and finds anything beyond jeans and t-shirt is considered over-dressed. It makes it difficult for her.

      LOL - I am thankful for Fabricland. Really, I am. Seeing it's all we have but...

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  5. First let me say I LOVE your black top, will just have to knock one off. That is part of why I sew, freedom to have what I want when I want it in a colour and quality that works for me. Great post, thoroughly enjoy your blog.

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    1. The black top was a ModCloth knock-off. Now that my T & T is more finely tuned I'm debating sewing it again in a different - better - fabric.

      Glad you're enjoying the blog. Thanks for letting me know.

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  6. Tickle list, I love that phrase. I think I've stopped aspirational sewing, I do wear most of what I've made. There are older items I don't wear but they show my learning curve along the way or it's because I've changed sizes and they don't fit so well. There are maybe a few too many of those items...

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    1. A key factor in managing my weight - which has the amazing ability to wander over all over the place - is wanting to fit into my pattern collection and especially into the patterns I've already muslined and developed. While I am lucky that I carry my weight well, right now I'm at the edge of going up a size. It's motivating.

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    2. Yes, I am having the wardrobe as motivation feeling. Most of my knits fit well, but wovens... eek.

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    3. Woven shirts may be something I work on in the near future. Button up makes me feel quite up tight so I might explore the shape using knits or very light weight wovens. Still pondering that idea but I'd definitely go with fine tuning a T & T and interpreting from there.

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  7. I love reading your posts as they are always so thoughtful, and give me little chunks of ideas to mull over as I go about my day... I sew for myself because as a short fat woman, with a severely limited income, if I want to purchase manufactured clothing to wear I would be living in clothing that was ugly and physically uncomfortable, as well as having been made under conditions I abhor. I could never afford the style and types of clothes that I like, even when I was fully employed.

    I realise that I am fortunate that I know how to sew, and that I acquired a stash of fabric when my life circumstances were better. I do concentrate on sewing the kind of basic garments in my wardrobe, and avoid total boredom by varying the details, adding integral embellishment, or focusing on learning some small technique more fully. (My current intent is to play around this spring with learning inset corners and possibly inset shapes)

    If I look in my closet and dresser, about 85 to 90% of my wardrobe has been made by me. I have a few older knit tops from Goodwill, one or two sweaters that I have been gifted with, an ancient Gore-tex rainjacket, and I do not make my own shoes and socks (even before surgery made compression socks a daily necessity, I had tried knitting socks; though I love knitting, I didn't enjoy the process of knitting with small enough yarn to make socks that didn't feel lumpy when worn, so homemade socks are off the table) I am considering the possibility of knitted leg warmers to be worn over my compression socks, to add warmth and color to my legs, but am currently involved in refurbishing my wardrobe of tops and pinafores instead...

    I have a fairly small amount of clothing (for a first world person) I aim to have enough clothes to get through a week without doing laundry, but have not yet managed that. That would be a set of eight pinafores, and eight underdresses and/or tops, to be worn with a slip. I keep one or two pair of pants or overalls for activities that need them. With a small wardrobe the clothing wears out in about two years and needs replaced. I do have a weakness for shawls and scarves, and have had to remind myself not to knit any more of them, I have enough. My other weakness is hats, I love hats. I have learned to make my own, (since nice hats are extraordinarly expensive) they are sort of my signature accessory. I probably have six or seven hats, and am trying to figure out a good way to store them.

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    1. The lack of selection for petite and plus sizes and for women over thirty is really quite scary - especially at fifty where it's so easy for something to vere off into frumpville. Like you, I have a relatively small wardrobe and am thankful that I sew. The selection and the potential are far greater.

      Hats!!!!!! How fabulous. Gives you a great reason to have hat boxes. You can actually put hats in them.

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  8. Well, well, well! Those are some darn good questions. As I read the earlier comments, I started to smile... I think I may possibly be the oldest of this bunch, having celebrated my 70th birthday in 2012. I am officially retired, but continue to work two days a week at a hospital where administrative personnel dress quite nicely... And that suits me just fine. Gives me a reason to continue to make the clothes I like best... A version of business casual that allows me room to personalize my look with details not found anywhere else. Of the thirty two things hanging in my closet right now, I have made all but seven of them. Depending on the degree of dressiiness (really dressy things get worn less frequently), they are all worn regularly... (They're the kind of clothes you can also wear out to lunch or dinner.)

    The rest of my wardrobe is pretty much made up of sturdy, well worn "work" clothes that can get dirty or even pick up some pain spatters...and most of them are ready to wear... I do not typically wear them "in public"

    Lately I have been focusing on pieces that are more unusual, and reflect more of my personal style.

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    1. Belated happy birthday. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. It's encouraging. I envy you having a reason to dress up. That's one of the things I missed when I quit my job which isn't saying much for the job and possibly quite a bit about my vanity but - LOL - what is, is.

      LOVE that you're focusing on unusual and personalized. Yes. Me too!

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  9. Great post, and it certainly got the old grey matter thinking! I basically sew so that I don't have what everyone else has - I'm not a clone walking the isles of the supermarket, or at school. I sew purely for enjoyment, and to see if I can do it. I sew because I like the freedom it provides to me in my little sewing room...and I love that black top of yours!

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    1. I've calculated it out in the past and sewing is by and far my least expensive form of entertainment with the bonus of clothes. That's perfect.

      What always surprises me about the size of my town, with only one fabric store, is that I don't run into anyone wearing "my" fabric. One wonders if "they" are all stash piling but whatever the reason, it works for me. I would much rather not be twins.

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  10. I sew for fit and just because I enjoy it! I, like you, also feel that I can sew a better quality garment for a better price than what I can buy. The only thing I buy RTW is outerwear(coats) and bra/panties. I find I wear much of what I sew on a regular basic. I find that the garments that don't get as much wear are usually because I've used a fabric that I haven't used before and therefore don't know how the "behave" when worn. Examples- the first times using matt jersey and ity knits I found they fit a bit closer/clingier than I'm comfortable with. Now I know to fit them a bit looser.

    Last summer I attended a trunk show by Linda Lee from Sewing Workshop. She had an interesting comment that I think may give you some head way into why some garments get worn less. Fabric choice. Her exact comment was that 4 out of 5 garments are not worn and it comes down to the wrong fabric choice. That comment was worth the price of the trunk show! It made me really think of my choices and examine the ones that aren't worn and why. You know what? She was right!

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    1. My daughter recently told me that once she's settled into a larger house with space to set up permanently and laundry facilities that she is going to take up sewing. YES - I would so love to share that with her and hope she'll hang in there through the learning curve to get to the stage where she can sew better quality for less because it is doable as you and I have both found.

      I would definitely agree that the wrong fabric choice is a key factor in garment failure. Certainly, it's the mistake I've made the most frequently. The fabric factor always influences outcome and I need to keep that awareness more front and center as you're describing with the knits - to make adjustments. Problem is we don't always know how that fabric will present like this cardigan I'm working on. I thought I had it figured out based on a previous project and then... LOL - what fun!

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  11. Yes, YES! I am tired of being held hostage by the garment industry, too. I am mid-process of making my first pair of pants (other than PJ pants) for myself - and these are jeans. Once I get this pair figured out, I am going to make a couple more in other fabrics just to get the process cemented in my brain - like I did with menswear shirts last year. And somewhere in there, I am going to begin making underwear as well. Making bras and swimwear probably isn't far behind, because the kind I enjoy wearing cost more than I can justify.
    What inspires me about your process is that you take the time to make a pattern work and then you PLAY with it. I always seem to run out of steam before I can get to the PLAY part. But that is probably more a result of my life situation than my interest in my project.

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    1. YEAH - way to go sewing jeans. They are so fun and non-denim fabrics really change up the results. I was out for coffee with a friend today and she complemented my wrap t-shirt and suggested I make several more because no one would ever know to which I replied, I have three more and I've been wearing them for years. She hadn't noticed. Your jeans will be like that.

      I'm glad you're inspired to play. I've had to learn how. When I first returned to fashion sewing, I was getting too caught up in muslins and fitting and over-fitting and turning into a perfectionist about fit so that I wouldn't wear anything that was slightly off and especially after I'd figured out a better answer. It was getting ridiculous and I was losing the fun part and definitely the clothes to wear part. Play is better and playing with a T & T opens up so much potential in terms of filling the blank canvas. I find it also saves me time and frustration.

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  12. I saw for fit and the intellectual and creative challenge. It would cost a great deal to get the kind of quality I put into my clothing.

    Check out the insides of my me-mades:
    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2012/10/everyday-plenty-and-make-do-and-mend.html
    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2012/05/in-praise-of-nerds.html

    OTOH, NYDJ makes good quality, well-fitting jeans in a factory near my home. It costs a reasonable amount considering that they are made in LA and how long it would take me to sew the myself. It doesn't break the bank to buy a new pair every year. Lands End Fit 2 chinos fit well and look attractive. So do Nordstrom's Classiques Entier trousers. They also last a long time.

    I also like Eileen Fisher sweaters and jackets and collect a new one (or two) annually.

    I sew tops, dresses and skirts. I knit sweaters in dk and larger gauges. I buy pants, jackets and fine gauge sweaters.

    I kept a spreadsheet of craft and clothing purchases for the past two years. I make most of my own and half my daughter's clothes. I probably don't save any money because I buy more fabric than I use. OTOH, our clothes are very high quality and would have cost at least that much had I purchased them RTW.

    A US government bureau actually publishes statistics on how much Americans of different income ranges spend on clothes. I checked it out and found that our family spends about average among Americans and less than people of our income range. I never feel underdressed when out and about so I might be saving money by making my own. Unless you count my time...

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    1. Thanks for the links. I so agree with using your "good" techniques for every day and loved the line - to be a nerd is to abandon fear of rejection.

      NYDJ fit me better than many. How lucky for you to be so close to the factory.

      I'm intrigued with the stats and wonder what range I would fall in. Is there a link? I haven't tracked how much I spend on sewing for quite a few years now. It was always an interesting number but when I divide the total by the hours of pleasure it was inexpensive entertainment.

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  13. Thanks, Myrna, for this thought-provoking post. First of all, I sew and knit because I was made to. That is, creating with fiber and fabric is my life purpose; it's what I was meant to do. I figured this out during my mid-life crisis, and now it is all I want to do with my free time. I can't simply sit and watch TV or listen to the radio. I have to be doing something with my hands, making something. It's what I do, it's who I am.
    So, creativity comes first. I love designing and tweaking and playing with ideas for clothing, whether sewn or knit. Fit comes second. At 6'1" tall and at the top of the plus size range, RTW is not widely available to fit me. I have one source for jeans with a good fit - they're even long enough. But tops never fit well. They're always too short, with sleeves that are too short and poorly-fitting shoulders and armscyes. I haven't purchased a top in well over a year, because now I make them.
    Saving money is never a part of sewing or knitting. I refuse to sew with crummy fabric, and since I don't have a source for good quality fabric that is inexpensive, I spend a lot of money on fabric. And yarn. The discount I get working at Sawyer Brook Fabrics helps a lot with my clothing budget.
    As far as what I make is concerned, I don't make panties or bras, nor do I see myself doing so in the near future. It just doesn't appeal to me, as I can find RTW that fits fine. I do knit socks, but not many. Like you, I enjoy making knit tops, as that is what I wear the most. I haven't made pants since returning to sewing, so that is a goal for this year. Time will tell if I ever make jeans. Unstructured jackets and vests are what I'm most comfortable wearing on top, so I sew them, as well as knitting a cardigan now and then. I knit most of my accessories - scarves, gloves and mittens. And I sew my handbags as a creative outlet, even though I covet several new RTW styles as they hit the shelves each season.
    That about sums it up. Thanks for asking!

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    1. LOL - everyone in this house knows that studio time is what keeps me (and therefore them) sane. It's essential nutrient.

      You're lucky you can find jeans that fit. My dropped behind always makes it interesting and I haven't been motivated to pick out the top stitching and alter the back crotch yet but you never know - if everything else was perfect.

      Designing is very fun. It seems your height got you started in some ways and the sheer seductiveness of creativity has kept you going. YEAH!

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Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the feedback and the creative conversation.