The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Time Dig

You know those cut away pictures, where they show you the layers of history, buried in layers? Well, this weekend I cleaned my sewing room.


I'm just finally getting over a particularly nasty cough that lasted me at least 4 weeks. In my typical hard-headed fashion, I mostly just ignored it, but after a while it began to effect my brain (which is why, even though I promised four parts, I've only posted three so far of my latest rant. Or whatever you want to call it). It's called being tired, I think. Actually, I've heard that if you get tired enough, your mental capabilities are very similar to when you're drunk. So you can imagine my ability to write was. . .impaired.

Anyway. So my sewing room was in dire need of getting cleaned before I got sick. Then I was sick, and not only was I ignoring the fact I was sick, I also had less energy, so I had to pick and choose a bit in what I did. Needless to say, I also ignored the fact that my sewing room needed to be cleaned, and continued to sew (and make an even bigger mess).

Then I finally got lectured enough on how I ought to rest, and I finally started taking a break. Then I asked my little sister, whose birthday will be coming up shortly, which she'd prefer, a stuffed animal or a dress? She replied, "A fancy dress!" Oh, well, that changes everything! Fancy dresses are fun. In fact, Fancy Dresses count as resting. Cleaning your sewing room mostly certainly does not count as rest. Now, a proper Fancy Dress uses scads and scads of Fancy Fabric, of course, and Fancy Patterns that use scads and scads of tissue paper, and if one is uncertain about anything, one must compare several Fancy Patterns. (Mine are Simplicity 7210, Simplicity 4899, and Simplicity 4980, which is now out of print, but uses the most fabric of them all. It's sort of similar to Simplicity 4451, or maybe Simplicity 8953.)

So I'm sitting there in my sewing room, fabric spewing out of my fabric chest all over the room, miles and miles of tissue paper floating about, and, of course, that it is the time my Dad chooses to poke his head in the room. He looks in, his eyes grow large as he looks about the room and tries to take it all in, and finally he just raises his eyebrows and grins real big at me. "Yep," I concede sheepishly, "Having fun, but making a really big mess."

I finally got to cleaning my sewing room. The first step was trying to get all those miles and miles of UNFOLDED patterns folded back up and put back in their envelopes!!! Do you suppose that would require super-human ability? No, because I did manage it, and last I checked I wasn't super-human. Then all the fancy fabrics (read: glitzy cheap polyester scraps that will some how turn into a princess dress at the stroke of midnight, provided you have some pixie dust) had to get un-spewed.

Then there were all the many messes leftover for the Happy-Baby present I made for a friend of mine, finishing it only several days after her due-date (thankfully the baby was late, so my present wasn't). She uses cloth diapers, so I had made her several in the "Fuzzi-Bunz" style; it was quite an adventure, as I'd never made cloth diapers OR used fold over elastic, AND I had quite a time getting the sizing right on the pattern I'd printed off the internet. Needless to say, not only were there fabric scraps and leftover notions, there were also piles of printed patterns deemed Not Acceptable.

In the mean time, I keep also shifting around the large piles of tissue paper and muslin pieces, some of which were past attempts at a sloper, some of which were refinements toward a perfectly fitting sloper, and some of which were the sad results of Drafting While Intoxicated (or sick and tired, as the case may be). Sorting them out to figure out which was which was not going to be an amusing task.

Other pattern pieces floating around included the "Oatmeal Bib" (for when the kids do everything imaginable with their oatmeal EXCEPT eat it) that I'd drafted, making a few with leftover fabric to send along with the diapers; 256 or so attempts at a bra draft (I'm getting closer, but I'm still not there yet. If you loathed bra shopping as much as me, you'd realize this project is worth at least 347 attempts, but who's counting?); an equally ridiculous number of attempts, as well as several successful renditions, at creating a perfect sphere for the reason of juggling balls (I did, brilliantly, figure out the exact mathematical formula for drafting a perfect, 4 panel sphere, which I think ought to get me some sort of statuette or something, commemorating my stunning mind. Unfortunately, the execution of said pattern didn't go so well; all 12 balls are already splitting and having their seams ripped out due to inappropriate fabric. The faux leather didn't have knit back, so all of that dreadfully boring sewing will have to be repeated); the 4-years-of-wrinkles Simplicity pattern that I swear I will someday make into a dress that actually fits; the pattern I cut out of newspaper for my youngest brother to make a simple shirt out of (which he did, today, but unfortunately that pattern also appears to have been DWI, as it some how has no ease whatsoever in the torso, but he seems fairly happy with it anyway); and several long scrolls of paper containing the quilting pattern I'm trying to get hand-quilted onto this quilt for my parents.

Besides this, there is the usual amount (for my sewing room, anyway) of fabric yardage pulled out for inspiration and never put back (well, more fabric than usual), junk that missed the garbage can (well, a bit more garbage than usual), tools and implements that were used and never put away (well, more tools that usual), yards of muslin for being cut into pieces and finding out it doesn't fit right yet, and pins that missed the pincushion. There is also the boxes of books and magazines, yet to be unpacked after the renovation; and the boxes of inherited patterns from my Great-Grandmother; and sawdust from when the boys were had the angle saw set up on my sewing room floor; and lentils that I had been using to stuff the juggling balls with; and, in general, total chaos.

But it's all picked up now, so don't get too scandalized!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Couture, considered IV: What next?

Surprise, surprise (not), the couture houses are dwindling. There is a smaller and smaller market for hand beading, hand sewing, hand overcasting, expensive, extravagant dresses. Why? And what next?

The "why" is easy. Why is because you have to make an argument for hand-sewing. Why is because what is "in" and "stylish" is changing so quickly. Why is because you still have to fly out to Paris to get it. Why is because a lot of people don't know what couture is. Why is because the houses are known for their style, not their fit or construction, or unconditional guarantees. Why is because extravagant dresses are rarely applicable to current situations.

What next is trickier. If you want to know what they are doing, you could read this article at the NY Times. The short story is that they are consolidating, and that many of them are rolling out high end RTW as their main sources of income.

But personally, I don't think that's the way to go. I don't think hand sewing has to be done away with, or watered down. I think it just has to adapt to it's new environment. In essence, haute couture has to loose it's haute to survive--no more Paris regulations, no more unending extravagance and opulence. (Unfortunately, the word "couture", by itself, has already been high-jacked, so they would have to come up with a new word, preferably something easy to pronounce. . .)

I find it full of irony that back in the middle ages, everything was made to fit, and only the poor bought second hand clothes that came in someone else size. Here we are, with all our advanced technology, food from every corner of the world at our finger tips, and we all scrounge around trying to find "our" size, like peasants in clothing stall. We can mass produce fabric and fibers, but everyone is wearing clothes that don't fit them. Back then, you could have your own personal dress-maker, and embroiderer, and lace-maker, and hat maker, and goodness knows what else. Your style was your style--you told them what to do, not some high flutin' designer.

I think this is what couture needs to do now. Not stay in Paris and make people come--go out and find people who want what they do. Not set fashions and trends--they change too quickly for people to make an investment in them. Leave trends for the mass producers to change at the drop of a hat. Not become ready-to-wear, not make even one more not-my-size garment, but custom size to individuals. There are professional shoppers popping up, existing to do nothing more than help people find clothes that flatter them among the mighty ocean of choices. Who knows that the same service is part of a couture garment? People have too many choices, and not enough of them are pleasant. Women stand in front of closets full of clothes and wail, "I have nothing to wear!!"

This is where couture ought to come in. Right now, it's all about fancy ball gowns. But how much do you suppose someone would pay for a pair of jeans that fits and flatters? What? They already have designer jeans, paying $700 for the privilege of buying abused jeans, and then they have to pay astronomical prices to get the darn things altered enough to fit them half way decently. Why not start out from the beginning and get it right the first time? Hand top-stitching is even more unique and appealing than machine top-stitching. Jeans go everywhere. Everyone wants them.

How much do you suppose the would pay for a swimsuit that fits and flatters? Talk about exclusive, she'd probably be the only woman on the beach that felt that way about her suit!

The perfect wrap top, that didn't gap? The "little-black-dress", that was uniquely hers, that was perfect for any situation? For having a closet full of clothes that makes people say "How lovely you look!" every time she wears them? For clothes that were timeless and classic, and withstood the raging whirlwinds of fashion?

They do say, you know, that you can't put a price on happiness.

I'm sure it must sound ludicrous to most people, to have your "special" clothes be your ordinary clothes, and your "ordinary" clothes to be special. Custom made jeans, and run-of-a-hundred-mills fashion items. Fashion might once have been "dictated" by the couture houses, but not any more. Fashion changes too quickly. Fashions are fads, fads are fashions. Couture ought to be supplying those staples that don't change, the timeless clothes they don't need to get rid of because they're "dated". Couture ought be to giving people the comfort and fit they can't find in fads. Couture ought to be making the every day life more pleasant.

The problem is that the people with the money and the inclination to buy such things either don't know that it could ever be--or what exactly, it would be. "Couture" doesn't cross their mind, because they aren't that "fancy". Custom designed, custom fitted, and high workmanship--these things might. But most people don't realize what they're missing. It's not until they have something that fits them perfectly that they realize how poorly everything else fits. It's not until someone shows them what couture can be that they'll want it. (How's that for classic advertising--the thing you never knew existed, but desperately needed, that you now can't live without!!)

I'm not saying that they would need to totally get rid of the temperamental designers and their extravagant creations--just that those two things need to take a back seat to reality. There will always be a place in for fancy opulent dresses. . . once or twice a lifetime. Couture can't sustain itself on that any longer, but reality changing doesn't mean you need to get rid of those skills, just that those skills need to adapt to a new reality. Of course, there are those that would say if it isn't about extravagant designs and temperamental designers, it's not couture. Fine, then. It's not couture. Let's ditch couture, and bring in whatever it is that makes top quality clothes that are relevant to your comfort, your style, your body and your life.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Couture, considered III: Why me? (and maybe why you)

Well, why not?

Ok, ok, seriously. If you consider couture to be fancy ball gowns with huge skirts using yards and yards and yards of fabric, it would seem really hysterical that I'm interested in it. Where I live, anything more than jeans (not the designer type) and t-shirts (not the designer type) is considered dressing up. Myself included.

Part of it, I admit, stems from my personality quirks. Machinery and I do not get along very well. Not on the whole; it's not like I'm boycotting all machines. It's always a very personal vendetta. I think the darn stuff picks on me. Like dogs, they smell fear. They'll work perfectly fine for everyone one else, and as soon as they're alone with me they start acting up. (With no witnesses. Great.) The more complicated they are, the more likely they are to break, get "confused", and generally need to be beaten into submission.

So do I do all my sewing by hand? No. I did save up my pennies, and buy a very high quality sewing machine, but a totally and completely non-computerized sewing machine. Everyone thought I was nuts, but the more complicated a machine is, the more likely things are to go wrong. The simpler the better.

And this doesn't just have to do with sewing, either. It works the same way with cooking, too. I like to knead my bread dough by hand. I have this heavy-duty mixer that could do it sitting right on the counter, and I still like to knead it by hand. Using the mixer is noisy, and it makes me all tense. Kneading by hand is calming and relaxing. I chop most of my vegetables by hand, even though the food processor is sitting on the counter. (An exception being onions, which I cry over so much that I think it would only be fittingly polite if people sent me condolence cards, and maybe some flowers.) People think I'm nuts. "Why are you making things difficult for yourself?! You're making it take twice as long, and a lot more work."

Okay, then. Requirement number one: Be Crazy. (Otherwise known as: appreciate working with your hands and don't be put off by extra work. Or time.)

I like the way the cooking analogy works. There is fast food and fast sewing---hamburgers and fries, and 2 hour sewing projects. There are homecooked meals and home sewing--casseroles made with canned soup, and pot roast. . .and clothing that is quite a step above fast'n'easy, but is still quite willing to cut corners for convenience and time. And there are those special gourmet meals that are almost as special to make as they are to eat, and those special garments that are almost as special to make as they are to wear.

In my cooking life, I mostly make home-cooked meals, strive for those special meals, and occasionally resort to fast food. My sewing life seems to be following in the same path. What I do, and what I would like to learn to do, are often different. But I do work toward it. (I suppose this is where I'm supposed to say Requirement number two: Don't Be Complacent, which teeters dangerously on the edge of Don't Be Satisfied, which, while closely related, is different.)

Finally, I have to admit to myself that I don't just want to learn to sew well with my hands. I want to sew well by machine, too, as the circumstances call for it. I am not going to hand sew a pair of grungy working jeans, but I sure would like to be able to make them well enough to stand up to the rigors of wear and tear (and be more comfortable and fit better than what you could buy). And, really, hand-sewing on any $10/yd fabric would be silly. But when I start seeing the prices spiral upward, $30/yd, $60/yd, $80/yd. . .and sometimes more!! ($150/yd. for beaded silk, for instance.) I don't think I could dare to put something that expensive under the machine. If I put that much money into it, it wouldn't be a run of the mill sort of garment. Considerable time would be spent in the design, and in the construction. So, also, I would say Make It Count and Be Appropriate.

Which brings us back to the question of why on earth would a jeans-and-sneakers kind of girl want to learn fine sewing for fine fabrics? Because I want to. That's enough of a reason for me, and enough of a reason for you, too.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Drooling. . .

Among the many plagues of the sewing world in general is trying to find decent fabrics. Although some people are lucky enough to actually have a brick-and-mortar store near them that actually has fabric that they are delighted to buy, most of us have nothing other than Jo-Ann's, Wal-Mart, and Hancocks. (Unfortunately, both my local Jo-Ann's and Wal-Mart are shrinking their fabric selections, and I don't have a Hancocks anywhere around.)

The only resort for those of us so deprived is the internet. Unfortunately, there's no road-map for the internet, so most finds are made by suddenly stumbling upon stores one never knew existed before. In helping those hoping to stumble upon something delightful, I offer two sites that I drool over.

My favorite place to drool is at Denver Fabrics. I have ordered swatches from them, and one cut of fabric, and was happy with both. Denver Fabrics has a great, huge selection, is well sorted and easy to navigate, and I like their service. They include lots of information on their site about the fabric they're selling. And they have good prices, and good pictures and descriptions. Among the many things you can find here include small leather hides, silk weaves of all types, linen, velvet (including, thank goodness, non-stretch leather, and leather with rayon and cotton instead of poly!), and a wonderful selection of wool, as well as denim (in many weights, stretch and non-stretch) and corduroy. I try desperately to avoid visiting this site, as it makes me want to buy a truck load of fabric. I just went and visited it again for the first time in months, and the selection has only improved.

My second favorite place to drool is Trim Fabrics. I've only ordered from here once, with good results, but again, it has a big selection. However, it's unfortunately not organized as well, which makes it seem more hectic to browse. You truly get lost over here, looking at the scads and scads of fabric. Their descriptions aren't as good, but their pictures are even better. Denver fabrics is more reliable and consistent in it's offering; with Trim Fabrics you never know what you will find, and that's part of the fun. You're more likely to stumble upon something breath-taking and unique at Trim Fabrics. Denver Fabrics has more solids and a wider scope of fabric types, but Trim Fabrics has more prints, or tone-on-tones.

Both places also have good trim sections; not surprisingly, Trim Fabrics is much larger. Their lace trim alone is just staggering, and the most beautiful lace trim I've seen anywhere. If you're looking for that "extra something", you'll probably find it here.