The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Monday, August 28, 2006

What you want to wear. . .

I had to laugh when I read this comic. You see, it says about 88.56% of what I wanted to write a blog post about, only it uses just 4 panels (instead of what might wind up being 4 pages).

There is an overwhelming large amount of sources telling people what the ought to wear, or ought not to wear. This always bemuses me.

As the comic above so sucintly put it, clothing talks. It may say "I'm rich," or "I do what everyone else does," or "I'm an old codger who doesn't care how I look or what people think of me," or "You didn't expect me to be awake when I got dressed this morning, did you?" or countless other things. But regardless of whether or not one puts thought into their clothing, the clothes that they choose to wear do speak. A conscious dresser may choose to refine that message, or to even send a false message. But even if one does not use one's conscious dress, one's subconscious is still involved, and a message is being sent.

So if someone tells you what to wear, or what not to wear, do you think that all they are trying to change is an outward appearance that has no meaning at all? Or do you think they are telling you that they don't like what you're saying and, here, say this instead? One who proclaims the "right way to dress" is also proclaiming "the right things to say".

There are those that would protest that not all "appearance advice" is like that; it's merely advice on how to look aesthetically pleasing. It educates people on things like proportion and colors, and the like. This is true, to a degree, but I often find it very unhelpful. After all, 88.56% of their advice boils down to: You will naturally be drawn to what is most flattering to you. Pay attention to what you most like to wear and what you get the most compliments wearing. There. I summed it all up for you, and I didn't even make you pay money to find out.

There is, though, the other 11.44%, which we mustn't forget. This goes back to what I was saying above, about making a conscious effort to refine the message we display. One can learn to better communicate with clothing; an eloquent speech with clothes will usually be recognized as such, even when the philistines can't quite discern all the subtleties that you put into it. But, just as one might take English courses to improve one's writing ability, the point is still not so much the writing as much as what is written. That is to say, although speaking clearly and powerfully will help, it is the thoughts and ideas that are expressed that are important.

People who work with costumes are working with the language of the clothing to it's fullness (which is one reason, I think, why I'm always drawn to costumes). People working with their every day wardrobe may not be working with such extremes, but there is a language and a message nonetheless. The first thing that a costume technician needs to figure out is what, exactly, needs to be conveyed by the costume. If you wanted to refine your wardrobe, you would also start here. What, exactly, do you want your clothes to be saying about you?

This post has been banging around in my head for quite some time, but I particularly wanted to post it now, because school is starting soon. With school comes the endless debates about mandatory school uniforms. (The ideas behind voluntary uniforms [e.g. for certain teams, sports, or jobs] are also be very interesting, but are, alas, beyond the scope of this post.)

People against mandatory uniforms (usually students) often complain that it denies them their creativity. No, it does not. Your creativity is not bound to your clothing. Does it deny you freedom to express what you wished to express, in the way you want to express it? Yes. It does not effect the inside of you, it merely effects your ability to communicate as you wish.

Do you think the people enforcing these uniforms think that they will change the insides of people? I hope not, because I think that's very foolish. What they are doing is, in effect, putting their hands over their ears and singing "La la la! I can't heeeaaarr you!" You must show up, we don't like what you are saying, you will stop saying it. It doesn't matter whether it changes what you believe or think. What matters is whether or not they can hear you saying it.

In the end, they really have very little choice. If someone is standing next to you spewing words you find offensive, you can usually leave. Or turn up your ipod. Or put your hands over your ears. But in the situation of compulsory attendance, the teachers can't simply decide to stop associating with the students, and hang out with a different group of people. Or choose which people they allow in the class. They can't even put their hands over their ears; the only equivalent of that is walking around with their eyes closed, and you have to admit, that isn't very practical.

So they make mandatory uniforms. Now they aren't hearing (or rather, seeing) whatever it is they don't want to hear (or see). But it doesn't change the students, or what they think, or believe. Some students might complain that someone else's ideals are being forced upon them, but they must remember that what is being repressed is merely their communication--not who they are. A fine line, yes, but an important distinction. I find the idea of someone's inner self being so weak that it is could be changed by outward appearances to be far more disturbing than the idea that someone might force me to wear a uniform. The important part is on the inside, not the outside.

Even if one is not being compelled to wear a uniform, this is still an important thing to remember. Taking someone else's advice on what to wear and how to appear is about as effective as wearing a uniform. It is a very weak effort indeed, unless you already agree with the one giving the advice. You will appear awkward in these "assigned" clothes, and out of place. Your words and your actions will give you away for what you are, even if your clothes do not.

People often dress to "fit in", but this means that all the compliments go to the clothing. As it has been said before, the point is not to have clothes that get the compliments, but clothes that compliment you. That is to say, when people see you, they shouldn't be inclined to say "Your dress looks great!", but rather "You look great!" This is why so much advice on appearance boils down to "Wear what you want to wear." Any thing less, and the rest of your self rebels against what is worn, and it is apparent to those who see you.

Endless advice might get you great clothes. But if you want to look great, someone else's opinion won't help you very much. What is mostly required is self-examination--what you like, what you do, what you want, what you want to convey, how you want to appear. This, more than any one else's opinion, is what really matters.

First batch is listed. . .

Well, I did manage to get 13 patterns listed on eBay on Saturday. It took me a lot longer than I'd hoped. (It also took about $5 in listing fees, so I have to sell at least one pattern just to break even.) I still have several crates of patterns that I haven't even scanned in yet, never mind listing the ones I have scanned. I know I could do "lot" sales, but I hate to do that because then no one really knows what they're getting.

Anyway, if you see something you want, bid on it, because I doubt I'll have the time or patience to do any re-listing. If it doesn't sell, it'll probably get sent out in the recycling. At this rate, I'll be lucky to have list them at all!

The 'hoarder' part of me cringes at the thought of recycling all those perfectly good patterns. The part of me that has to work in my cramped sewing room is getting perilously close to unceremoniously chucking them all.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Clothing and Fashion

People, of course, ask me what I'm interested in. When I indicate that I'm interested in sewing, they often respond, "Oh, so you want to work in the fashion industry!" as though there could be no other possible reason for sewing.

"Well, not exactly," I say. You see, I don't want to design fashion. I want to design clothes. Now, undoubtedly some of you are rolling your eyes, because of course when they say "fashion industry" they mean clothes.

I disagree.

Occasionally, in keeping my eyes out for interesting and creative clothes, I do get suckered in to visiting fashion sites. Sometime a few months ago, I did. It was supposed to be about international fashion, and I thought it would be interesting to see how different countries and cultures approached their clothing. As usual, I found nothing useful, and regretted visiting; the site had nothing to do with clothes.

For instance, the first two pictures I saw was of a stick-skinny model walking towards the camera on a run-way, wearing a tight, short dress. It was a grasshopper green, I think it was made out of silk, and about mini-skirt length. I think it had long sleeves. The second picture was of the model walking away from the camera. The same green silk, the same long sleeves. . .but the back of the skirt had been carefully cut away so that the model was mooning the camera, the entire audience, and anyone else who cared to look. I kid you not. That was the greatest "feature" of that dress--the ability to moon people without hitching up your skirt.

This is no lone incident. At every fashion site I have ever dared to peak at, the models have not been so much clothed as unclothed. This leaves me to think that, by and large, most designers main dilemma is trying to figure out exactly how much fabric they must use in order to call it a "look" or a "piece" or even sometimes a "garment".

Sometimes I imagine the designers planning their runway shows:

"I think it's time for knits to be 'in', so lets have this model wear chunky knitted socks, and a nice, long scarf."

"That's all? Don't you think that's a bit skimpy?"

"Really? You think so?"

"Yes. She should definitely be wearing a hat."

"D'you know, I think you might be right. A wool flannel plaid with ear-flaps, maybe?"

"Sure, with a real, stuffed duck on top."

"Excellent idea. We can call it the 'huntress' look."

This is where we get into the quibble of whether fashion has anything to do with clothes. Fashion is "The prevailing style or custom, as in dress or behavior." Clothing, on the other hand, is defined as (by varying sources) "1: Clothes considered as a group; wearing apparel. 2: A covering." or "Articles worn to cover the body." or "Things worn to cover the body." or "covering designed to be worn on a person's body" or even "Clothing is defined, in its broadest sense, as coverings for the torso and limbs as well as coverings for the hands, feet and head." You see, by definition, clothing covers the body. Fashion, on the other hand, has no such bounds. Since it is only the "prevailing style or custom", it is possible for 'fashion' to mean "walking around buck-nekkid with only a pair of dark sunglasses"--if it's in fashion, it's in fashion, regardless of what is or is not covered.

Clothes are sometimes fashion, but fashion isn't clothes. In fact, I'm much more inclined to call those skimpy rags popularly known as "fashion clothing" as simply "un-clothing"--fabric that is, by and large, meant to leave as much as possible uncovered. This un-clothing has no other use (besides leaving things uncovered)--it is neither comfortable, nor practical, nor protective, and nearly all the time, it doesn't even look good.

I have therefore learned, in the manner of Pavlov's dogs, to avoid association with (among others) these words: Fashion, fashion-forward, trend, trendy, style, stylish, diva, current, and even, alas "modest", which for some peculiar reason often seems to mean "just because it looks like all my un-clothing is about ready to fall off doesn't mean it will". Which, one has to agree, is indeed more modest than un-clothing that not only looks like it will all fall of, but, in fact, is also in a regular habit of doing just so.

What, then, is left for one who is interested in sewing, but not in fashion? Well, there are always the old reliable stand-bys--like sewing hot-air balloons, and repairing worn out belts on your car, and sneakily sewing shut the legs to all of your brothers pants. But some of us like to consider the possibility of actually sewing clothes.

Yes, clothes. Clothes that work. And by work, I mean to fulfill the intended function of clothes--to cover, to be comfortable, durable, protective, practical, and aiding you in your activities, whatever they may be. People seem to often make themselves subservient to their clothes, forgetting that clothes are a tool for people. They put themselves through discomfort and inconvenience for the sake of wearing the "right" clothes, instead of using clothes to lessen their discomfort and inconvenience. Often this is done with the claim that form and function can't mingle--that it has to be uncomfortable and inconvenient in order to look good.

This, then, is a common argument: Yes, I wouldn't be caught dead in many things labeled "fashion". But "clothes" are so utilitarian, so boring, and so flat out ugly, I wouldn't be caught in them either. Therefore, I will stick to wearing whatever is in fashion that I can talk myself into wearing.

Some people think that one cancels out the other--if it looks good, it can't be very practical, and if it's practical, it must be ugly. Of course, everyone's idea of what "looks good" varies, but combining form and function isn't considered weird for most things--cars, appliances, electronics--in fact, most things you buy. People want things to work, and to look good. But for some odd reason, they make an exception for clothes. Clothes, it seems, don't need to work. Or rather, un-clothes don't need to work; clothes don't look good.

I think that designing clothes that combine both form and function can be done; it just takes more skill. Do I make a claim to great skill? No. But that is what I aspire to.


I now have an ebay account, "tatterpatterns". I hope to start listing this Saturday, so tell all your friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives, or any one else you know who might possibly want to buy patterns!

Paypal will be accepted (in fact, encouraged).

Patterns will be shipped in flat-rate ($4.05) Priority Mail envelopes, which I realize is a bit more inconvenient (expensive) for the buyer. However, this lets me devote more of my time to verifying the contents of pattern envelopes, writing accurate and helpful descriptions, answering any and all questions quickly, listing more patterns for you to chose from, and shipping promptly. The good news is, I can usually fit 4 patterns in an envelope, snugly but comfortably. (No mashing or man-handling of the patterns required to get them to fit.) In some cases, such as larger patterns (e.g. designer patterns, or other patterns marketed with a larger envelope) or thicker patterns (patterns using massive amounts of tissue paper), I may not be able to ship as many per envelope. I would be delighted to combine as many orders as can reasonably fit, to make your shipping money go further.

A sneak preview of some of the patterns I will be listing during this pattern sale can be found here. (I don't know how many I'll get listed the first day, or which ones I'll be listing first.)

Anyone with a collection of patterns themselves may want to arrange a trade with me, instead--look over at Krystin Baker's forum for more details.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Patterns, patterns, and more patterns

I recently was given several crates full of sewing patterns. I picked out the ones I wanted the most, but I still have several crates full of patterns, taking up very precious space in my sewing room. I'm hoping to soon start selling them on E-bay. If you want a sneak preview, you can look at them at Flickr. There isn't much there yet (I've only just uploaded 44 of them), but I will be adding more to them later.

I'll keep posting updates here, but unfortunately the pressing need of getting these patterns out of my sewing room is cutting into my blog writing time. I do have a (much longer and hopefully more interesting) post half finished in my "drafts", and hopefully I'll have time to get it finished sometime this week.

In the meantime, feel free to browse my patterns. An E-bay selling spree is imminent!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Where have I been?

It's been almost exactly a month since I last posted.

I have not dropped off the face of the earth, nor have I lost interest in sewing, or talking about sewing, or ranting about sewing. I do, however, have a good excuse (for once!) for not posting.

In general, I try to mostly keep this blog on topic. Sites that are supposed to be about a certain subject and then devolve into nothing but chit-chat on the author's daily life bother me. There isn't anything wrong about chit-chat on the author's life, but I feel cheated, because the site promised one thing and delivered another.

There are some things, though, that feel so momentous to the author of this site (me), that I can't seem to keep my thoughts from drifting back to them. (Or taking almost 4 straight weeks off of posting a single word.) So while you may not have any need of reading what I'm about to talk about (it's not about sewing, and you may not care where I've been), I'm going to write about it anyway. (But, don't worry, it's not about the finds on my latest shopping trip or a cute thing my pet did this morning. Slightly more momentous than that.)

I live in the north-eastern part of the U.S. In late June, there was severe flooding (the rivers crested on June 28th). The peculiar thing was that it was flooding the highly affected the rivers, but not so much the creeks and brooks. Living out in the middle of nowhere, we saw our local brook rise considerably, but nothing out of the ordinary. I've seen the brook higher during spring melt-off, when all of our snow turns to water and runs off. The rivers, on the other hand, rose to the point they were beyond any sort of control; they spilled over flood-walls and ruined houses that were no where near the flood-plains of the river.

So, in the beginning, it didn't really affect me. I was still high and dry, and I rarely come out of the middle of nowhere to the beginnings of somewhere. About two weeks after the flood, however, things started to change. We were contacted, asking if we would be willing to volunteer in the clean-up after the flood.

Having never experienced a flood first hand, the first reaction we had was "What? It isn't all cleaned up already? It's been two weeks!" No, it is not all cleaned up. And in the beginning there were a lot of volunteers, but they had dropped off dramatically. Some of that was probably due to the fact that most people do tend to stop thinking about disasters after the first two weeks (unless it directly effects them), and part of it was due to the volunteers they did have burning out.

So on July 18th, a small crew of family and friends took the half-hour trek out. We made it clear we didn't want the easy jobs--it would be much easier for them (the church organizing the clean-up) to find people willing to do the easy jobs. If we were coming all the way out to help, we wanted to help the people who needed it the most. The dispatch ladies took us at our word; we asked for hard jobs, and we got hard jobs.

And who is we? Mostly girls and children (that is, people under the age of 18--the youngest we ever took was 11). My 4-years-older-than-me brother was the only man in our crew on the first day. Other than him, there was me, two other girls, and 12-year old boy.

And what is a hard job? Moving water-logged furniture out of a finished basement, with no direct opening to the outside. Including a table, couch, several easy chairs, a pool table, an ancient freezer and all the carpeting.

All in all, the 85-year-old widow we were helping didn't really think we'd get much done, as everything would need "a group of men" to get it out. Needless to say, she was pleasantly shocked when we did get it all out--and tore out all the ruined wooden paneling besides--by 6 pm. Never underestimate a good work ethic and a determination to get things done (also known as a good dose of pig-headedness). The pool table came up in pieces (my brother "disassembled" it with a circular saw and a sledgehammer). The freezer also came up--my brother harnessed it up with a strap; he pushed, we pulled, and up the stairs it went. The rest of the furniture was carried up between me and my brother. The soggy carpet (in some places you could pretend it just smelled like river mud, but in other places it smelled distinctly of sewage. Joy.) we sliced, rolled up, hooked the strap around it, and hauled away. Hard work, to be sure, but doable.

After that, we usually managed a crew of about 10 people, but it was still mostly young women or children. Sometimes we'd have an extra man or two (besides my 4-years-older-than-me brother), but we were never a, shall we say, physically imposing crew. We worked Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday the first week, and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the second week. Over those six long days, I have accumulated a lot of stories--sad stories, that make you want to cry, stories so gross it would make you want to gag, even a few funny stories. (If you ask, I'm sure I could be easily persuaded to tell a few.)

But mostly, we worked. The dispatch ladies were very good at finding the place in the most need and/or the most work--usually both. After the widow at the first house had stated nothing could be done without a group of men, we joked that we had all been made into men. It doesn't take a genius to see that we were only joking, though. My brother was a man, and he could bounce back easily. We weren't men, and there were bound to be consequences, even if we could do the work.

The last Wednesday that we went out, we had a crew of 13 people--All of whom, besides my older brother, were young women or children. We got to the house at 9:30 in the morning, and took about an hour off for lunch. By 3:30 pm, we had moved 5 dump-trucks worth of trash out of the house. We know, because we stood around and gawked when the road crew came by to pick it, and counted how many trucks they filled.

I slept for almost all of Thursday.

My body had held up for the work before--sure, there had been the odd dream or two, but I was able to do the work each day. But now, my whole system crashed. I lost almost all appetite--on Friday I ate a small bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, no lunch, half of a large apple for afternoon snack, and only a small amount of dinner; each time, I felt full. I couldn't get anything done, I kept staring into space.

This persisted throughout the weekend, but by Monday, I was ready to work again, and we went one last time. We almost might have not bothered; the second half of our crew was also exhausted (they didn't sleep all of Thursday, or perhaps they might have had a bit more energy), and what had been easy to do on the first day had become quite difficult by July 31st. (My older brother, annoyingly, had bounced right back, and didn't get what was up with all these tired people.) Many people couldn't focus. We still put in a day, but it was a day of light work: we tore out some walls and ripped up some floors. We did the work, but it was clear this was our last day.

That was Monday. Now it's Friday. I have been trying to get caught up a little bit on some of the things that piled up while I was otherwise occupied. On Thursday I helped some neighbor's get their hay into the barn (everyone's been quite delayed in getting their hay made, due to the frequent down-pours), and I seemed to have all of my strength back. So I have bounced back, if not as quickly as some people, and I do hope to post more soon, if possible. I know you're all on the edges of your seats.