Smock dress dreaming

Smock Dress Dreaming Sewing

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Make one, mend one

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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:

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

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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).

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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 knitting, local elections, and learning how to be an active ally.

Plus: Ebony’s interview & illustration series

Fair Dare fabric recommendations

Fight!

 

An A-frame skirt, at long last

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Good things take time

is that an overused adage?

(You may remember, this skirt was first up to bat in my fall queue; it is also, apparently, the snail-paced slowest of slow fashion garments I think I’ve ever made — partially cut in May, tabled until September, resumed, dropped, and a grand finale in the final days of my ‘fall capsule’ – but who’s counting?)

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I honestly thought I would finish it by early October at the latest, but that didn’t happen, and then time seemed to hop skip & jump until late November. Post-election, hands-to-work-and-hearts-to-heaven & all, it brought me strength and comfort to work on this garment, which I came to view as a cumulative, collaborative effort of creative businesswomen who inspire me.

The fabric: grown by Sally Fox, an organic cotton in natural brown, raised in Northern California; made in Japan when the textile industry all but collapsed around her; imported many years later by Kristine Vejar and purchased by me from her shop, A Verb for Keeping Warm (available online here).

The pattern: designed by Taylor McVay of Blueprints for Sewing, who draws on architectural details for thematic, visionary patterns (and whose creative space in Western MA I am secretly incredibly envious of); available online here.

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Finally, in my own drafty little hall closet sewing space, I pieced together these amazing, origami-like pockets, emphasizing the “wrong side” of the fabric which shows a bit more of the natural brown hue of the cotton, then slowly the panels of the skirt. I finished all of the interior seams with bias tape made from scraps, and dutifully pressed and pinned it all to lay flat. I installed a lapped zipper, first by hand and then by machine, it’s not quite hidden but I don’t really care. (it’s this one, in glorious brass and organic cotton which has ruined me to all other zips). I basted the side seams and tweaked the fit twice (thrice? maybe.). Finally the waistband, a vintage button from my stash, and a hand-bound buttonhole as the sun set on holiday cookie baking.

It truly would have been a perfect piece for my fall capsule, when the weather allowed for bare legs but long sleeves; I even remember wishing it was just done already so I could wear it. But actually, it’s perfect for winter too. Maybe not negative-thirty-plus-wind-chill Minnesota polar vortex winter, but on your average frosty winter day, it’s sleek over a pair of tights and a perfect complement to slouchy sweater and pile of knitted accessories.

Exhibit A:

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Pattern notes: I did make a muslin, in a comparable-weight fabric (some sort of cotton canvas that came from a free bin), and I highly recommend that. I chose View A, the more “pencil skirt” shape, and I knew I wanted it to be a little more ‘penciled’ than the original. I marked that on my muslin and took a bit of width out by narrowing the side panels at the bottom. I also graded from a larger to a smaller size at the waist and hip, per my measurements, and in fitting the final skirt I let out the hip just a little bit more. I used a 6″ zipper instead of the recommended 9″ but have no problem getting the skirt up (I did the same on the muslin to test it), and I lengthened the skirt by following the lines all the way down to the largest size, but not beyond that. It falls just above the knee on me, instead of below, and I considered drafting a facing instead of folding up the hem to keep the length, but I actually think this is a touch more modern and better for bike riding.

It feels so good to finally have this skirt completed and in my closet rotation, a mark of the time spent to make it, by me and all the people in the supply chain prior.

 

Just enough (plenty)

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Over the holidays I spent a restorative week with friends & family, partaking in traditions that were new to me, and new twists on the old familiar. In an effort to share the meaning of Hanukkah, we read some much-loved children’s books, including a very sweet story called Just Enough is Plenty. 

Lessons about latkes and generosity toward strangers and finding joy in relative abundance warmed my heart, and I can’t help but translate that message into this rambling reflection of my fall capsule, a balancing act of seasonal change & wardrobe paucity

Sometimes it’s really nice not to have a lot. Like, all my clothes in this capsule fit on a dozen hangers and into one large dresser drawer, the out of season-ers up above in two bins and another handful of hangers. And I rarely ever struggle with getting dressed in the morning, nearly everything is a favorite or at least a faithful piece that plays well with others and holds a certain amount of meaning to me. (like the outfit below, which I posted for my Slow Fashion October intro)

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But then:

your go-to jeans rip.

your boots fall apart.

your most functional cardigan is embarrassingly pilled.

your one mid-weight jacket doesn’t quite cover the climate.

So: the perks of selection, of alternate options to lessen the all-around wear & tear, the gratitude of being able to sub into rotation while the mending pile awaits.

it seems like the age-old time vs. money quandary to bring in reinforcements, and this season I seem to have skirted the two with happenstance.

The week after my jeans ripped (in the crotch area, again) while riding my bike (to work, for a meeting), my friend Lydia generously gave me a pair of sturdy Levi’s 501s that no longer worked for her. They’re just what I needed, and just in time.

The week after I received the pair of pants I pined for and planned and purchased, I realized I couldn’t quite budget for the boots I had my eye on too. Just then, a pair of Nisolo boots popped up on a resale site, gently worn and half the price. A sturdy substitute, ideal for the season.

And the Clyde pants? I hesitated at first, treating them with kid gloves and wrestling internally with the price. But then life sped up, pants ripped, and there they were: stylish, comfortable, wonderful, and much much appreciated. Truly, they’re worth more than the sticker price anyway.

And all of that queue? It largely remains in list form – on the internet, and on my studio wall.

Which is not to say out with the queue! Because if anything, getting by with a sparse capsule affirmed my plans — a limited addition of a few strategic items would certainly help my wardrobe function a little smoother and rest a little easier. And an addendum: for next year, I would add a jumpsuit to the mix, because the warm weather lingered and I really missed my blue linen jumpsuit but I knew it just wasn’t warm enough. I’m eyeing the new Mitchell Jumpsuit pattern from Hannah Garr, maybe in a heavy linen or light denim.

But in going without, in letting go of the pressure to finish it and make my pinterest dreams come true, I got by just fine. Maybe even turned the corner from fine to great, from overly focused to going with the flow. And in these past few months, the ‘capsule’ season has been dwarfed by the political season; the weather shift outweighed by the climatic shift in American identity; the wardrobe needs cast aside for community needs of time, money, presence, and pressure.

It turned out: just enough was plenty.

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I did finish the sweater (v.2) for Jenn (notes on Ravelry here), and moved on to a few warm accessories for me: a Roku hat, Aspen legwarmers, and Fibershed Knitalong shawl. I hope they’ll bring some coziness & security in this coming season of cold weather and chilling politics. In the very last days of fall I also finished my long-planned A-Frame skirt and will be back soon with details on that and with thoughts on a deep winter capsule.

Project planning for fall

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Back to my point about project planning: whether or not you actually want to make/use/live with a capsule wardrobe, the free Capsule planner can be a helpful tool to plan wardrobe addition. I’m going with a fall capsule wardrobe, but I think the foundation of taking stock of what I have, identifying what’s working & what’s not, thinking about weather and lifestyle and any needs for the upcoming season allows me to easily identify and prioritize pieces I want to add to my wardrobe, capsuled or not.

From my wardrobe planning process, I have a clear color palette, an idea of my favorite silhouettes, and an inventory of what I have and what gaps exist in my wardrobe. I have a good number of boxy tops that I love, but am pretty low on pants and skirts to pair them with (especially pieces that are in good condition and can be dressed up a bit).

The Capsule planner also offered a nice time to reflect on my goals: moving slowly, keeping my closet pared down, and working with my stash. So now, the part I daydream about the most! What to make? How will the things I make pair with what I already have and love?

Since I generally enjoy making most of my wardrobe, I use the shopping list part of the Un-fancy Capsule planner to think about what projects to prioritize. But, considering my current need for pants and the learning curve to make a pair (which I don’t have time for just yet), I decided to invest in a pair of Clyde pants after many many months of contemplation and budgeting. I also need another pair of shoes, ideally boots, which is a bigger budget item, so I’m trying to keep my project budget lean and finish up a few WIPs.

Roughly in order of priority:

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Loose inspirations & interpretations: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

I wouldn’t say this planning method is totally foolproof — I could still end up with clothing that doesn’t quite fit or isn’t durable, or doesn’t ultimately move into regular wardrobe rotation. But I have a natural tendency (ok, borderline obsession) toward planning and I think laying it all out ahead of time is really helpful.

I also know that this fall — really, the rest of 2016 — will be very busy for me, and there’s a chance that I won’t get through even half of the items on my list. Through my summer capsule wardrobe experience, I learned that making one full garment per month is a reasonable pace, so with my fall planning I’m trying not to set my expectations too high, and by prioritizing, I can focus on each item in due course. Still, if I don’t get to making or finishing the items on my list, I know that I have plenty to wear and lots of great options in my fall capsule.

This is my current practice of balancing excitement, inspiration, and desire, with gratitude, responsibility, and time management. Do you have a fall list? I love learning about how others plan (or don’t!) their projects, and welcome your thoughts in the comments!