Smock dress dreaming

Smock Dress Dreaming Sewing

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

How do you feel about pockets, the bigger the better?

I love being free from a purse, throwing my necessities and maybe a craft project for good measure into a generously sized pocket, and apparently I’m not alone in feeling that capacious pockets offer freedom: “No pocketless people has ever been great since pockets were invented, and the female sex cannot rival [men] while it is pocketless” notes an 1899 article on the Rational Dress Society. Pockets (or lack thereof) are not just a symbol of sexism, but political in nature: evoking swagger, mystery, suffragettes, personal property, equality.

Similarly, the loose silhouette of early 20th Century ‘Village sacks,’ so named for the Greenwich Village artists who made and took to them, freed the female body and “conveyed the message that the wearer was a liberal woman who stood outside mainstream America.” (this I’ve learned from the incredible O’Keeffe: Living Modern catalog).

Which brings me to my modern loves: functional studio-meets-street smock designs by State the Label and GDS Cloth Goods which give me all the heart-eyes, the amazing catch-all crescents of Elizabeth Suzann‘s Clyde designs, and denim shift dresses and full skirts with wrap-around pockets by Aliya Wanek and Carleen. I contend that FLAX designs of the ’90s actually originated many of the sack and pocket shapes we’re seeing these days, my own vintage Flax jumpsuit adorned with inset wrap-around pockets, and a quick eBay search offering much inspiration (lower right in the collage above).

After doodling countless smock dresses on every surface within arms reach, I’ve taken to drafting my ideal dress, a mash up of my smock-pocket dreams and my self-drafted crop top and best woman dress. More soon!

Indigo tamarack: part IV

Indigo Tamarack 1.jpg

All the while making this jacket, I thought to myself: this will either look crazy, or crazy good.

As I rounded the home stretch of binding the jacket edges, I knew that the latter was confirmed. Introducing my indigo Tamarack jacket: hand-dyed, patchwork-pieced, hand-quilted, lined in upcycled flannel, filled with locally made wool batting, bound by hand, a supremely cozy feat of skill-building slow fashion.

Indigo Tamarack 3.jpg

It just feels so good — crazy good — to finally wear something that has been growing and evolving, stretching and reflecting over a year of creativity. In a way, this jacket charts my trajectory in style and skill, explorations and impulses. In a way, it’s less a statement jacket and more a summary.

In nearly any incarnation, the Tamarack Jacket pattern by Grainline Studio seems like the perfect transition-season outerwear. For mine, I lengthened the body by 1″ and the sleeves by 2″, my standard adjustments, and the fit is perfect for lightweight layering. It’s a little crowded with my Exeter cardigan underneath, but just right over a fingering-weight sweater or simple sweatshirt (may I suggest: Liv light or Linden). It doesn’t yet have any form of closure, though I plan to add a few hooks & eyes, which I’m waiting to see if I can find at a textile recycling event later this month, and the updated version of the pattern includes a delightful looking snap option.

Indigo Tamarack 4.jpg

Should you choose to make a Tamarack Jacket in pre-quilted fabric, or perhaps a vintage quilt (yes, please do that!), you could probably have one in a day. Should you go for custom machine-quilting, you can probably still finish it in a weekend. Should you wish to make an indigo vat, cut apart and patchwork together your pieces, source your batting locally, quilt it together with sashiko thread, bind all the interior seams, finish the exterior binding by hand, and embroider your heart into painstaking welt pockets — well, it might just take you a year and a half.

And it might be a crazy-neverending WIP, but the payoff might just match the persistence.

Indigo Tamarack 2.jpg

Worn with: vintage silk tee & jeans, handmade shawl, favorite necklace & clogs.

Exeter cardigan, ode to sheep sylvia

Exeter Cardigan 1

Cabled coziness, fuzzy luxury, place-based wardrobe fulfillment.

I arbitrarily told myself I couldn’t/wouldn’t share photos of my “finished” Exeter cardigan until I finished weaving in the ends. Maybe it was less arbitrary and more motivational (I’m always loathe to weave in ends).

But as soon as I tucked away the most conspicuous yarn ends, I slipped on the sweater for the evening. And then I got up the next day and put it on to fend off the late-winter chill. And then the next day it was really the best fit with my outfit (hallelujah, sleeve and shoulder ease).

Exeter Cardigan back

On and on I reached for this cardigan, swaddled myself in it, even traveled with it, for a solid month before finally & reluctantly ending the loose ends.

It still doesn’t have buttons, but I’m calling it good, wearing it while I hunt for button-mates.

The pattern, of course, is Exeter by Michele Wang from the BT Spring Thaw Collection, with full modification notes here. I’m thankful as ever for knitter friends, for real-life sweater try-ons and internet-based helpful hints. The main change I added was length: to the body ribbing, the pockets, and the sleeves.

Exeter Cardigan front

The yarn is a local treat: squishy, lustrous, taupe-y grey wool, purchased at a local festival in spring 2016. It was surprisingly hard to find a full sweater’s worth of yarn from a local farm at this festival that was supposedly all about the shepherds, but I knew I had a winner as soon as I spotted the table piled with this yarn. Simply called Farmgirl Yarns, the label denoted it was raised and spun on-site by English Gardens Fiber Mill in southern Minnesota.

Everything on the table was undyed, with beautiful natural neutrals and subtle variations in grey-brown hues. I gravitated toward this lot immediately. The name: Sylvia. The breed: 1/2 Blue faced Leicester, 1/4 English Leicester, 1/4 Columbia, noted in neat and swirling hand script.

The natural shine of the yarn made the cabling even more addictive, the plump 3-ply showing the texture with distinction. I dutifully swatched and blocked each of the three stitch patterns as called for in the pattern, and the fit is exactly what I wanted — a little bit longer and slimmer (less ease) than the shown on the model, with excellent drape.

Exeter Cardigan Side

What surprised me, though, is that the yarn is really softening with wear. And by that I mean, it’s already pilling more than any of my other hand knit sweaters. It doesn’t bother me so much as perplexes me, because with the little bit I know about Leicester breeds I had thought they were longwool and thus a heartier fiber. I have a pretty high tolerance for wool, not one who needs merino next to skin, so I thought it would be great to have a cabled cardigan in a more substantial wool that would wear really well.

It wears beautifully in its cozy comfort, sheen, and drape, but it has quite the fuzzy halo when you look up close, and will need regular combing on the sleeves and lower ribbing where the most friction occurs. I had thought that pilling was mostly the result of shorter fibers coming free with wear, and maybe that’s true with this yarn, but I wonder if it’s more due to the construction — a ‘softer’ spin that makes the yarn more open and pliable, thus pillable?

Of course, this will hardly stop me from wearing it, it’s more of an observation and perhaps a consideration for the future to do a bit more of the dirty work with a swatch before casting on a whole sweater. I think Karen was really on to something with that hot tip.

One thing I know for sure I’ll take with me to the next big knit: tucking in my name and date, as noted, a little way to make my mark and meld my work with that of all those in the supply chain, from Sylvia the sheep to the spinnery and the shepherd.

Exeter Cardigan Pocket Detail

Small closet chronicles: lessons from donations

Donations

It doesn’t really seem like spring yet, but I’m already feeling spring cleaning fever. Part of my reorganization and revitalization efforts include moving clothes out of purgatory — that pile or box where I’m trying to decide if they should be scrapped, sold, or returned to my wardrobe — and into new homes.

Have you heard about the glut of giveaways, the sea of secondhand clothing?

The short version of the story is that pace of consumption is so fast and price of clothing so low, that donations are flooding secondhand stores but the prices are barely competitive with fast fashion shops. I’ve certainly noticed a shift in what I find at thrift stores over the past 15 years, and in my own purchasing power — I started shopping at thrift stores when fashionable options were out of reach, when silk blouses, wool skirts, and cotton jeans filled the racks, and then H&M came to town at the tail end of high school and suddenly I had so many more choices, yet now the secondhand racks are bulging with cast-off trendy tops and misshapen synthetic blends.

So, I try to be very careful with what used goods I’m putting out in the world — of course that largely begins with bringing in a lot less and shopping secondhand in the first place. But still, sometimes it’s time for things to move on — to free up some physical space, and reduce mental and emotional clutter too.

As I drove a box of donations to Goodwill last weekend, I thought through each item in the box and realized I could learn something from what I was getting rid of — something to carry with me, a lesson learned in lieu of the thing itself:

3 party dresses: align your wardrobe with your lifestyle, and choose versatile special occasion clothes.

I don’t really go to parties anymore, neither of the college campus nor the business casual happy hour variety, and after several years going unworn in my closet I can confidently say these clothes can go. When I do have a special occasion on the horizon, I prefer to dress up the pieces in my existing wardrobe, and if I need something new I will remember to keep it classic and versatile (or maybe rent it? That seems like a fun option for events).

1 clothing swap sweater: just because it’s free and intriguing doesn’t mean it’s right for me.

I actually picked up this particular sweater before I had ever knit one for myself, and I’ve realized how much I’ve learned about my preferences in knitwear shape and style since then. Thanks knitting!

3 plain cotton thrifted tees: trust that when you’re ready to make a project, the right supplies will be available.

I picked up a few shirts at the thrift store when I was obsessed with an Alabama Chanin book; I made one garment and may someday make more, but for now these shirts were just taking up space so I decided to release them back into the secondhand ecosystem.

2 half-priced craft books: it’s better to save the small change and request the real deal.

This winter I’ve been really into my non-fiction library queue — when I hear about a craft, art, or design book I’m interested in, I place a request online and then wait for it to arrive. Borrowing it first allows me access to the skills I’m trying to build or inspiration I seek, and time to decide if I really need it in my home library, rather than settling for a discount version that won’t quite satisfy the need.

5 miscellaneous activewear separates: bodies change; it’s ok to let go.

My current approach to athletic wear is pretty similar to my special occasion clothes: I want things that are versatile and actually get used. Workout clothes (and bathing suits) are tricky because I think there’s an element of materialized aspiration, but I no longer see the value in holding onto items purely for motivation or guilt. (yuck)

A shower caddy: avoid organizational “necessities” until you figure out what your space really needs.

This one’s not clothing related, but it’s an important lesson for me, especially as I continue to move apartments. Plus, Goodwill often has tons of these types of racks and baskets, so I endeavor to scout those out first (with measurements on hand!) to find the right fit next time.

A bag of miscellaneous craft supplies: trust your gut and keep striving to stash less.

There’s an amazing annual event here, a communal garage sale for all things textiles and fiber crafts, and I volunteered last year and found it completely overwhelming. I took home some lovely textiles but also grabbed a few things that in my gut I knew weren’t quite right (like the giant embroidery hoop) so I’ll be returning them into the sale and hoping they go to a better home. An annual event provides a good built-in guideline — haven’t touched it and still have no plans for it after one year? Back it goes.

Personally, I think that if you truly can’t use or refashion an item in your wardrobe or home, it’s still better to donate it than send it to the landfill. For vintage or natural fiber items, maybe it will make its way into the hands and heart of an eager thrifter like me, but  just know that it’s probably not going to a needy closet somewhere, it might just go into the rag trade or even get bundled and sent overseas.

Taking the time to reflect on what I’m getting rid of helps steer me toward shopping more responsibly and reducing waste in the long run.

 

 

Cautious spring color

spring color_darning

I’ll admit to feeling some winter funk lately, after a few fleeting warm and sunny days and a return to grey. I’m craving color, cheer, change — signs of life.

(It’s snowing again as I write this).

I funneled some of my restless spring energy into a Pinterest board, a holding space for all things bright, bare ankled, and smock-pocketed.

But I’ve found another outlet: imbuing the last of my winter projects with a bit of spring fever, creating my own vibrancy until the landscape gives way. It started when I finished my big winter knitting project, the Exeter cardigan, and even worked through a few smaller gift items. Finally, restless fingers found time to pick up a holey hand-me-down cashmere sweater, fumbling my way through some experiments in darning.

Inspired equally by the visible mending movement and the shabby slouchiness of a sweater past its prime, I decided to accentuate the darning with contrasting thread colors from my collection of vintage spools.

It takes a closer eye and a bit more fine-tuned attention than evening knitting, but I’ve actually been really enjoying darning, turning each little hole into a tapestry. The overall effect reminds me of days spent in the painting studio, returning home with splotches of my palette in unsuspecting places, building color onto garments instead of canvas.

spring color_sock

This cheery nod spilled over into my next knitting project, a simple pair of socks I’ve been wanting to make out of some local Babydoll Southdown wool. Last summer, I dyed half of my lot in fresh indigo, so I decided to swatch in stripes. But it seemed like it was missing something, so I divided off another portion of the white yarn and made a quick dye bath of dried marigolds. The bright yellow is unexpected but exactly what I needed — sort of a, when life won’t give you daffodils, make your sunshine, kind of shade.

Make one, mend one

make-one-mend-one-split-seam

Or in this case, two.

I first read this tip from Zo (originator of Me Made May): alternate finishing a new garment with fixing up an old one. I remember thinking: how admirable, but how annoying.

In the abstract, it seemed to me like a nuisance — to go from the joy & pride of a newly finished item to the tedium, and perhaps nagging disappointment, of fixing something gone awry or worn out.

But in practice, I’ve been thinking about ways to ‘bundle’ together projects, one to make and one to mend. Probably because winter is dragging on and my mending pile is growing and instead of gleaming at me from shelves of neatly lined stash fabric and yarn, it’s beginning to glare at me from the corner of my bedroom. Motivation to the rescue!

As noted, I have a handy little quadrant for winter wardrobe-related projects, categorized by: need / want / mend / mod. First up to bat in the new (and needed) garment category was a pair of cozy organic cotton terry hudson pants (shown here).

And you know what goes well with plain cotton thread and jersey needles? Two hemlock tees awaiting some mending and modifying (from the ‘mod’ quadrant).

make-one-mend-one-flat

So, when the last threads of the hudson pants had been snipped, I took some time to slip them on and revel in all their long-planned-finally-finished glory, then I cleaned up the scraps, and made room for the tees.

The Hemlock tee by Grainline Studio is a community favorite for sure, with its simply boxy cut and myriad of modifications posted by creative sewists. I’ve made both knit and woven versions in the past few years, and realized I just wasn’t reaching for these two tops very much.

Are you tired of hearing me blab about the benefits of my experience with the capsule wardrobe planner? Well, it really has helped me hone in on what garments I love, what shapes I’m most comfortable wearing, and what is languishing in the back of the drawer. For instance, a warm-weather absolute favorite item of mine is a blue and white striped t-shirt that I got at a thrift store. Something about the cut and proportion is just perfect to me, so I took a few nods and notes from it to make my hemlock tees a bit more beloved.

For the brown and cream stripes, that meant chopping off the length at the hem and a little at the sleeves — I was always tucking it and pushing up the sleeves anyway — and creating a split side seam (a favorite detail of mine in general) that is slightly longer in the back.

make-one-mend-one-cuff-detail

For the black and white striped tee, I had experimented with the shape but I hated the visible zig-zag topstitching and the awkward length of the sleeves I had created. I unpicked the hem and neckband, and cut the sleeves short. I added sleeve bands (using the sleeve scraps!) and re-did the neckband and hem with a twin needle.

In both shirts, I tucked signifiers to distinguish the front and back, which I always think will be obvious when I’m making a shirt, but when I pull boxy tops out of my dresser it irks me that I have to pause and consider the right side. Here’s to making yourself happy with the little things.

And, here’s to discovering that the satisfaction of rectifying your old clothes is truly on par with making new ones, so may I suggest: make one, then mend one (or two).

make-one-mend-one-clydes

Here & there, vol. 3

Here

Is the world melting or is it just some of the snow?

The past few weeks were challenging on many levels, and turning to manageable, tactile, creative tasks has helped me get through it. Of note:

IMG_1928.jpg

The finishing touch on ultra cozy Hudson pants (the better to spend a Saturday morning snuggling & writing postcards to Senators).

IMG_1857.jpg

Finding my own way to commemorate 2017. I think it’s critically important that we continue to define & document our own narratives — I’m starting in the pocket of this sweater (thanks, Beth, for the tip).

IMG_0102.jpg

Slow stitching inspiration, thinking about the role of thread and fiber in mark-making, heritage, and recording history in cloth.

There

Looking forward to this series interviewing slow fashion leaders

Honored to be included in this piece on slow fashion sourcing

One step at a time, times 3: to lead, to follow, to make a habit.

Other numerical comforts: take 5.

Finding hope in local: local knittinglocal elections, and learning how to be an active ally.

Plus: Ebony’s interview & illustration series

Fair Dare fabric recommendations

Fight!