Friday, March 15, 2013

On Black Knit & Beauty

Are you amazed at how long it can take you to get from thinking about doing some thing to actually doing it? When I posted the picture of the zebra print top yesterday, I was surprised that I'd sewn it more than six months ago. It seemed like just the other day.

As part of my zero waste goal, I've been collecting piles of scraps to explore the concept of making fabric from fabric. Although I've done this before with textile art, after seeing Diane's examples at the Design Outside The Lines workshop last June - as in nine months ago - I've been interested in applying the concept to creative wearables. I finally started yesterday.

The Spring 2013 issue of Sew Stylish had an article on peplums and different ways to create them. One of the examples was a wrap peplum. I thought that piecing and peplums and especially wrap peplums had potential. The peplum of Vogue 8815 above is more traditional than the peplum of...

... Vogue 8856 - which you've seen a few times lately, a fact that shows how much this pattern has been tickling - but in both cases the peplum could be replaced with fabric made from fabric either formed by stitching scraps into the appropriate shape or by forming scraps into fabric from which the shape could be cut.

I started by exploring wedges. There are two different black knits in this mix. One is thin and the other has more body and is a richer black. Together, they are yet still another example of why quality is important especially when you're going to invest time in labour intensive piecing techniques.

Here's a detail image. The choice to piece the length of the strips before stitching them together most likely depends on the fabric you're working with and your overall goal for the garment. I could see doing a version of the Koos skirt this way. 

With the first sample, my goal was to utilize exposed seams and wedge shapes. With this second sample, my goal was to follow the line of the scrap and to create points and pouches. At first I couldn't get any pouches to form and then suddenly...

... every seam had a pouch and the resulting fabric was morphing in directions I hadn't anticipated. It quickly became apparent that completely random shaping may not work - that some experience and forethought as to which shapes are stitched to which shapes and what that will look like and how you can build the fabric strip by strip will be important. In other words, I need to learn to do by doing.

I stitched up the whole pile of scraps and there's nothing usable for a garment but what fun. The "yardage" is now with my paints and stencils ready to explore further. Also as part of my zero waste goal, I'm trying to use whatever scraps and samples I create in as many ways as possible.

A woman who is striving invites others to strive. A woman whose heart is at rest invites others to rest. A woman who is controlling cannot invite others to rest, to be known. A woman in her glory, a woman of beauty, is a woman who is not striving to become beautiful or worthy or enough. She knows in her quiet center where God dwells that he finds her beautiful, has deemed her worthy, and in him she is enough. In fact, the only thing getting in the way of being fully captivating and enjoyed is our striving. A woman of true beauty offers others the grace to be and the room to become. Beauty is the most essential and yes, the most misunderstood of all the feminine qualities.

Work in my studio is moving along at a steady, enjoyable pace. I'm not trying to come up with a great idea, find something that "they" would buy, or carve out some kind of career. I've come to a level of acceptance around not having a career and, for now, I'm simply exploring what I want to explore. There is peace and there is flow. I am thankful.

The above quote is a compilation of sentences from Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, the study I'm currently working through. I first wrote about the book a couple weeks ago. It's about the the role that God intended women to have and the role that they actually have and how to bridge the gap. It talks about beauty from both an internal and an external perspective. I've always believed that both are important.

The quotes resonated with me because I am experiencing not only the internal difference that comes from not striving and from being more at rest than I've been in a long time but also the external difference. It seems that the more I am at peace, the more approachable I am becoming - which is good - because I really enjoy people and I love to share, support, and encourage. I am being very careful not to "fall off the path" as this is a positive direction I want to continue moving in.

The only real elegance is in the mind; if you've got that, the rest really comes from it. - Diana Vreeland - - -  A woman can be over dressed but never over elegant. - Coco Chanel

When I don't get enough studio time, I am listless and cranky and depending on how long it goes on for, depressed. When I am being creative, I am happy and energized. There's an inner enthusiasm that bubbles and flows as I make things. Get me talking about creativity and you'd sense very quickly the incredible passion I have for creating with fabric in particular and for enabling others in their creativity. I love to learn how. I love to teach how. I love to create. And I love to wear the clothes that I create. All of these make me feel confident and capable and those are attractive attributes.

I don't understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little - if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that's the day she has a date with destiny. And it's best to be as pretty as possible for destiny. - Coco Chanel

I'm about to talk about beauty - and not about whether internal beauty is the only beauty that's valid and external beauty is shallow because neither is true and both are important. Beauty is about the entire package - inside and out - and I believe that from the inside out is a wonderful way of expressing ourselves since an externally beautiful woman with no heart quickly becomes no longer beautiful BUT... I also believe that our external self needs care and tending and that by paying attention to how we look on the outside, we nurture the inside. I'm sure we've all had the experience of running out to the grocery store, bumping into someone we know, and wishing we'd washed our hair, put on make-up, or worn a different outfit. I certainly have and I know exactly how that made me feel on the inside.

I don't mind others being against this book -- they're just less competition for those of us who understand the corporate unconscious. I read this book AFTER becoming successful by doing the things this book recommends. Lucky me. Then, when my company changed to a casual wear policy and I changed my look, my whole life changed. I went from unquestioning respect to constant challenges to my expertise and to colleagues actually acting surprised at my level of skill, when I had worked so hard to build a reputation. Now that I've gone back to serious dress, albeit with only a little casual influence, I have my respect back. And I'm not going to give it up again! - review from

A friend and I recently discussed John Malloy's book New Women's Dress For Success. My friend is a supervisor in a government office. She noted that the level of dress has decreased significantly in the time that she's been in management. At first, she said it was no longer a factor in how people were viewed but when I asked if her staff dressed better than she did, she got a very thoughtful look on her face and when I called her later in the week to share the above quote she said that she'd been thinking about our discussion all week and had looked around the office more carefully. She was about to make changes.

Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman. - Coco Chanel

Yesterday, when I was in the bank, I noticed that the women who worked there were dressing with more care and attention than they had previously and when I was in the grocery store, I noticed people - women especially - taking note of how I was dressed - and that the staff was friendlier and more helpful - and that gentlemen of all ages were more inclined to give way in the aisle or hold the door, a gesture I appreciate as a sign of respect since we both know I'm more than capable. This differential treatment doesn't surprise me. When I studied public speaking, one of the first things I was taught was to dress at least one level above the audience because it garners respect and conveys the message that you are confident with your subject matter and know what you're talking about. Confidence is attractive.

How we look on the outside matters. If it didn't, there wouldn't be so many studies into how quickly a first impression forms and how long it lasts. How we look matters to how others see us and it matters to how we see ourselves. When we feel frumpy, we rarely act with confidence. Because I'm home alone so often, whenever I go out I spend a bit more time and attention on my appearance and typically I'm asked why I'm "all dressed up" when all I'm wearing is a skirt, a well fitted top, dress shoes, and jewelry and I've done my hair and make-up. It takes less than fifteen minutes and to me, that's dressed not dressed up. Swap the skirt for jeans and that's my everyday look and still good to go. My reply is always if not now, when? I'm only getting older. Now is the time to enjoy.

You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life. - Coco Chanel

When I was at Sew Expo a few weeks ago, I was surprised at how few of the women attending took the opportunity to dress. Why not? We sew. We create pretty clothing. We create unique, only we have them, and we can be ourselves by wearing them, clothes. We feel confident and capable, lighter and freer, when we wear those clothes and when we're dressed in way that we know flatters us and one that makes us feel energized. Even the women who don't sew clothing could have used the opportunity to dress up somewhat. Many did not look like they'd made any effort.

I wanted to give a woman comfortable clothes that would flow with her body. A woman is closest to being naked when she is well-dressed. - Coco Chanel

My intention is not to create any kind of debate about internal or external beauty. In fact, I refuse to respond to any comments along those lines. If it was a yes and no question and we had to choose which was more important, definitely inner beauty and beauty of character is far more attractive than surface design BUT... why do we have to choose? Why can't we have both?

What I want to say is that I've re-realized how getting dressed is a form of self care and of self respect and I want to encourage you to think about that perspective, to think about the beautiful you on the inside and how you can present her not only to herself but to the world in the wonderful, feminine, beautiful way that only we as women have. And your beauty will give back an inner radiance and an outer confidence. And if you think I can't do that, I'm not pretty, you missed the message. What I'm talking about is the outward expression of our inner beauty. Let's make the effort. Lets not hide our wonderful selves under anything less than our best.

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - beauty, femininity, dresses, skirts, pretty jewelry, hair, make-up, strength of character


  1. You've always given me some food for thought, Myrna :) this is not the first time you encouraged us to make the effort to present our best foot out to the world, and what a great reminder it is to me. I would like to think that i am doing better now than i was, but there are still room to improve...

    1. My daughter and I have been talking about this in terms of her upcoming maternity leave. It might sound strange but when I was a new Mom - as soon as baby had somewhat of a schedule - I found it better for me to be up earlier than baby and dressed with make-up on than to try and fit it in later. I might not have accomplished much else but I was dressed and because of that I felt better about myself all day and that gives off confidence that impacted how baby felt. It was always a priority even as my children grew up and even now. I want to feel good about myself all day and - not that I dress for him but - I want my husband to enjoy coming home to me. There's always room to improve because life is always shifting and evolving.

  2. AMEN!!! I so totally agree....Anna

  3. I have noticed this at different sewing venues -- Martha Pullen, Quilt Shows, etc. The women in attendance create beautiful clothing, magnificent quilts, spend gobs of money on sewing paraphernalia, but some (SOME, not all) spent no time upon themselves, not even basic personal grooming stuff. I, too, have wondered why not?

    1. Perhaps it's because we've been taught that looks are shallow and yet there are so many studies to support that how we look and dress is important in terms of self esteem, first impressions, and opportunities throughout life. I find it a fascinating topic. I've started reading New Women's Dress For Success and even though it's now "outdated", it's not. I wonder if we might be experiencing a resurgence of its impact.

  4. I've noticed the same thing at the Sewing Expo over the years--almost as if many appreciated beauty in things, but not in people, much less themselves--almost as if they had given up on themselves. I thought too that it was another disincentive for younger women to become involved in sewing. Elle

    1. Do you think it might have anything to do with low self-esteem? Unfortunately, that is far too common a condition that we all battle with at times.

      I think there are more younger women sewing and dressing up now than there are older ones. When I'm out, it's usually the clothing that younger women are wearing that attracts my attention.

      The daughter of one friend wrote on her blog that her goal for this year was to dress less the slob and yet the daughter of another friend went to a Mom's time out group and was "disgusted" - her word - to be the only one not wearing sweats and who was "done up" - again her words. It seems a shift may be starting.

  5. I live in a notoriously casual area--Portland, OR--and have worked at home for years, telecommuting, as a writer. Oh boy, did I fall into the frump slump. It happens bit by bit and then you realize you're in quite the hole. It's possible to dig yourself out, though at first it takes what feels like a lot of extra time and effort.

    I also note that this is an issue as women age. Linda Grant's "The Thoughtful Dresser" nails it perfectly.

    1. Portland is casual? With all those fabric stores? What a shame. I know what you mean. Even though I did my hair and make-up and wore jewelry, in my self employed from home days I mostly wore jeans and a black t-shirt. It is possible to change. YES YES. Returning to sewing fashions has been part of the shift for me. I couldn't buy the clothes I wanted before so I settled. Now I can sew them.

      The Thoughtful Dresser is a FABULOUS book. I think everyone should read it because it really makes you look at clothing differently.

  6. I couldn't agree with you more!

    I worked in banking for a number of years and dressed the part and always felt at my best. While some people hate "dressing up" I love it! I felt more confident and, as you said, seemed to be given more respect by others. When I left and no longer "had" to dress I went the total opposite direction for a number of years. After a while I felt as if I'd let myself go and I really had. Thankfully I've dug myself out and landed somewhere in the middle of the two. Not quite a banker but definately not a slob! It feels good.

    1. Can you describe the middle? I'd love to know more about how you're dressing.

      I'm working on fitted knit tops as opposed to "logo" t-shirts as I call them and on pants with interesting lines which makes Marcy a favourite and on skirts with fun and interesting fabrics. I'm about to experiment with tights - cautiously - as I think there's a danger in looking like a little girl playing dress up unless I'm careful with the tights and what I wear them with. And blouses. And I'd like to explore casual dresses. Because of my figure type, I couldn't buy dresses that fit shoulder to hip so they almost became invisible to me over the years I wasn't sewing fashions. I live in a semi-desert area and dresses would be lovely.

      So... what does not quite a banker look like?

  7. Because out winters are cold I'm always in pants. I have two TNT pant patterns. One is a basic pant that can go dressy or a bit more casual depending on fabric. The other is for knits and is similar to the yoga pant from Silhouette but, imho, has a really nice look for a stretch pant. I pair them with knit tops, tunics made from various knits and sweater knits, add some jewelry or a scarf, mid heeled schootie or ankle boot and I'm good to go.
    Sometimes I throw on a cardi. Because I'm in a cold climate and (sometimes) all people really see is my coat I've switched to styles that are a bit more fitted and tailored looking as opposed to bulky. My bottoms tend to be solids and I use prints for tops.

    I love summer dressing and that's where the variety changes quite a bit. I have 3 different dress patterns-sundress, tank style and an a line that has a wee bit of a sleeve, skirts and gauchos for bottoms. I never could get into wearing capris. I have an addiction to sandals and probably have 20-30 pair! With our short wearing season I get tired of them before they wear out. I use a short sleeved shrug if I need to cover shoulders, like with the tank dress.

    At this moment I don't even have any jeans so that's why you don't see them in my list! I literally can't buy them to fit right. I'm working on fitting them right now. They've been tissue fitted, done in a crummy fabric and pin fit at the ss and I'm ready for my first test pair this week. So far they look really good. Wish me luck. I probably just jinxed myself!

    1. I posted a reply to this earlier and it's not here so... again...

      I wear a lot of skirts. In summer, they're longer because I don't wear tights and in winter they're shorter so I can. Seems backward but it works for my legs.

      Let us know how your jeans work. I can't believe you'd have jinxed yourself by being generous with your information. I've sewn them before and it was good and I have room for improvement if I sew them again but for now, I'm going to invest in jeans. My need to sew list is way too long.

      Your comment on sometimes all people see is the jacket resonates. I've had a goal to have a new coat ready for fall for the past few summers and it never happens but that's so true. Maybe this year.

  8. I have noticed the same thing at Sew Expo. The Seattle area (includes Puyallup) is just as casual as Portland. I see people at Seattle Opera or Pacific Northwest Ballet in jeans and sweats! REALLY. It is distressing. People have no idea that appropriate dress not only gets respect, it gives respect for the event/performer. I went to a semi formal wedding and sat next to a man in cargo khakis.
    I agree that it is not only the quilters at expo who do not give any thought to what they are wearing. I attended only garment sewing classes and was outnumbered by ungroomed, sloppily dressed women. People seem to equate "comfortable" with "sloppy". At least I was able to see some in creative, beautiful clothes, worth remembering.

    1. It is distressing and it's hard to convey to people that the concept of self respect and respect for others. I hope we're seeing a shift.

      What day did you got to Sew Expo? Were you there on Friday and if so did you see the woman wearing the gorgeous cream colored sweater coat with black stitching? She looked stunning.

  9. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful post. As I've become older, I realize that my mom and grandmother were right -- it is more respectful of yourself and the people you meet if you make an effort to look polished when you leave the house. I'm working on it!

    1. Thanks for thanking me. Isn't it interesting what our elders were right about? I wonder what my kids will say.

      I hope (plan) to be a work in progress right to the end. Seems like the only way to embrace life.

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