know thyself

Why didn't I think of this before? A collection of swatches on a corkboard means I don't have to retrieve fabric from the basement to remind myself what it looks like (and then have to put it away again).

Why didn’t I think of this before? A collection of swatches on a corkboard means I don’t have to retrieve fabric from the basement to remind myself what it looks like (and then have to put it away again).

Going through some Shitty Stuff last fall and winter, decluttering, and getting some sewing done over the summer. The connection? I learned some things about myself and began to apply them.

The Shitty Stuff led me to be more introspective, or rather, “more introspective than usual”. (Given how introspective I already am, being more introspective is something of an accomplishment.) I realised that, although I already knew myself pretty well, there was still a lot to figure out.

First, the physical. I already knew that my colouring is soft summer (cool and muted/dusty). As for build, I’m short and slim. My horizontal measurements make me look a little broader than I like, even though my side view is narrow (I’m elliptical, using the terminology on Inside Out Style), and I’m short-waisted. Thus, waist seams bad, princess seams good. But then I got stuck trying to figure out style because in some ways I didn’t know myself well enough.

As an introvert, I will never be the life of the party, and I’m not an attention-seeker.

I recently discovered that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Now some traits that I was already aware of began to coalesce into a pattern. Interestingly, many of these traits align well with my physical characteristics (colouring and build):

  • I’m very tuned into subtlety > soft summer colours are considered subtle and elegant; I prefer solids, but subtle stripes could work
  • sharp contrast is too “loud” > I prefer monochromatic or analogous colour schemes; I’ll take a low-contrast stripe – no black and white
  • I have a good eye for proportion
  • I like clean lines rather than fussiness > accords with advice I’ve heard for petites; I prefer to keep accessories to a minimum
  • I’m sensitive to texture > I prefer natural fibres, smooth textures (not chunky, some sheen is OK but not shine)
  • I’m graceful and quiet when I move (I keep accidentally sneaking up on people!) > this might be considered elegant
  • I like harmony, not drama > my style will be understated, not dramatic
  • my clothes have to be comfortable
  • I can easily see or feel when clothes don’t fit well (though how to fix it is a separate issue!)

Feeling out of step with the rest of the world is also pretty common among HSPs. Story of my life! Maybe this is why I can’t relate to any of the predefined styles out there. I’m petite and have a pixie cut, but I strongly dislike most things considered “feminine” (including most pinks, pastels, frills, lace and crochet, flounces, most florals, bows, blouses, blouses with bows [shudder], anything that can be described as sweet or cute). I definitely have edge and opinions; I don’t relate to much in the dramatic style but I do like garments with some structure (if I can get them to fit). I like an ethnic/worldly flavour, which suggests bohemian, but I don’t care for the fussy prints, crochet and fringe that tend to go with it – odd and authentic silver toned jewelry is better. I’m too unconventional to be “classic”, but perhaps my unconventionality is subtle. I tend to go for a uniform.

I recently did a little some image searches re basic styles. Most resources seem to focus on a handful of styles, but there isn’t a lot of consistency in which styles. International resources offer different viewpoints and different terms.

At this point, I’m investigating “Parisian chic” as a base style. Some of the premises resonate with me: invest in a capsule of good quality basics in neutral colours and natural materials; basics include a motorcycle jacket (aka moto, aka Perfecto) and well-fitting T-shirts; it’s not an overtly sexy look and always has a bit of edge; err on the side of under-dressed (although with strong basics you’ll never look schlumpy); use accessories to change up your look.

(I’ve never been huge on accessories, but I’ve got a little collection of scarves now (started as dance costume and now expanded to “real clothes”), and since I’ve organised them I’ve been playing around with them more often. They’re also make for an interesting experiment in this not particularly stylish corner of the world. No one looks twice at my muted gunmetal and purple leopard-spot pashmina, or the slightly-less-muted beige, deep pink and berry ikat cotton scarf. But a narrow, predominantly red and pink, boho-ish printed silk scarf flutters in the wind and I get Looks.)

Some Parisian basics don’t grab me quite as much: white shirt (shirt yes but white not so much, though maybe I haven’t found my best tint yet); basics in black or navy (again, perhaps a mere colouring issue – instead of black I’ll try charcoal, and instead of a deep navy maybe a medium one); trench coat (but if it fit well and wasn’t beige…).

More thought and exploration is required…

Does style spill over into other areas of your life? What sorts of style struggles do people have – especially if you sew your own clothes and theoretically have absolute control?

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silver

IMGP0670So far so good with these fabrics. The one on top I’d describe as a fine sweater knit – black and grey, with silver threads that turn into glitter and get everywhere when cut. I scored 4m for $10, 100% unknown fibre. The one on the bottom is a very plain poly knit, to be used as lining. I’d bought it a while ago with a different project in mind; I’m glad that it’s not quite as icky as I remembered it. I usually avoid synthetics like the plague, but this is for costume and I’d be surprised if I spend more than 10 hours wearing it over the course of a year.

I’m working on getting the main piece (and, with some luck, a secondary piece) done by June 22, when I have a solo at our student show.

IMGP0671

Berroco Captiva yarn (label says the colour is 5507, but it may have recently been renumbered 7507 – Polished Iron), sequinned fabric in a stormy grey, liquid metal fabric in straight up silver.

I have some ideas for some coordinating costume pieces that I’d like to make out of this stuff, but they may or may not happen. My solo is in a style other than my usual, and our studio has no other performers and no classes in this style. If I don’t get my ideas made before this show coming up, there’s not much reason to make them afterward – unless I go out of my way to look for more opportunities to solo. The costume for my usual style is very colourful, so it could be hard to integrate any of these ideas into regular rotation. Still, I’d like to see them take form.

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oh god, more squares

polar bear quilting cotton

polar bear quilting cotton

I got a bee in my bonnet about making furoshiki out of seasonal prints so I could match the print to the contents of the bundle. I started looking for appropriate prints and had difficulty finding anything that I particularly liked. I eventually ran across a polar bear print at the quilt shop that is walking distance from my house. (So much better than running the gauntlet out to big-box/excessive-traffic land.) I’m now putting away my winter gear, so it all came together nicely.

You know that saying “idle hands are the devil’s tools”? Well, another tool in that box is the rolled hem foot. I’m doing well if I can maintain the same number of curses per hour as regular sewing – it’s usually at least double.

sometimes the rolled hem foot works nicely...

sometimes the rolled hem foot works nicely…

It’s tricky to keep the proper amount (width) of fabric feeding through. Too much, and there’s no room in the hem for the raw edge, which peeks out the side. Too little, and all you get is a single fold with the raw edge sticking out, or it looks good and the raw edge is folded under but it didn’t get caught in the stitching.

... and sometimes, not so much

… and sometimes, not so much (but the really egregious bits, I redo)

My neighbourhood’s annual arts festival took place last week, culminating with the street fair – arts and crafts shopping – on Saturday. For about 10 seconds, I thought about having a booth and making furoshiki to sell, but that way madness lies. For one thing, I get so bored with hemming squares that it’s hard to do more than one in a row.

so instead of vending, I went dancing

so instead of vending, I went dancing

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hello stranger!

looking south at about 4pm, the sun is already below the rooftops

looking south at about 4pm, the sun is already below the rooftops

Hello and Happy New Year! It’s been fairly quiet around here for a while now.

Blogging about my sewing (or not blogging about my sewing, or not blogging because I’m not sewing, as the case may be) has made me sufficiently mindful that I now at least have some insight as to why I’m not sewing (and/or blogging).

It turns out that the number 1 issue that I’m dealing with is a subtle fatigue. This seems to be a health thing but I don’t have any conclusive info. The wheels of inquiry have been set in motion at least: blood tests reveal nothing of interest; sample meds for one possible issue have had little or no effect; and I’ll be having a test for sleep apnea, probably in May.

So how is this relevant to sewing? As a P (as in INTP), I tend towards being indecisive at the best of times, and fatigue takes that to a whole new level. I find that there is generally no point trying to do any kind of problem-solving in the evening. Therefore, fitting (for example) can only be accomplished during daylight hours, which limits me to weekends and holidays. Further, I tend to be unproductive in the evening because I’m already wiped out.

Another, blog-specific, difficulty is getting decent photos. Indoor photos are a challenge: in this rather dark house, that activity too is limited to prime daylight hours. Outdoor photos are impossible: I might try it around 0°C, but at -20°C it’s a firm No. (At this moment, it’s -32°C, and feels like -50 with windchill.) For one thing, you wouldn’t be able to see my makes under my parka.

But I have success to report! I have managed to fit a T-shirt pattern to the dizzying standard of Good Enough! At the moment, all I have to show for it is a pile of mock-ups, but production versions are forthcoming.

So here’s a random photo of my cat instead:

IMGP0367

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dye job

I’ve been rather uninspired by some of my clothes in part because the colour of them doesn’t quite work for me. I figure I’m a soft summer meaning that colours should generally be cool and soft, but some of my items are too bright/clear to be especially flattering.

Rit powder dye 30 Navy Blue, which I would call "indigo"

Rit powder dye 30 Navy Blue, which I would call “indigo”

I finally decided to try dyeing some items. I’ve done very little dyeing so far, so it took me a while to psych myself up. I used Rit powder in Navy Blue.

What I started with:

before; shirts 3 & 4 are wet in this photo

Before: shirts 2 & 3 are (were) essentially the same shade; shirts 3 & 4 are damp here

1. 100% cotton, somewhere between sky blue and cornflower blue (electric indigo?)

2. 100% cotton, purple verging slightly toward red (mulberry?)

3. 51% lyocell, 44% cotton, 5% spandex, purple verging slightly toward red (mulberry?) (almost exactly same colour as the previous shirt, maybe slightly less red; looks darker in the photo mostly because it’s damp and #2 isn’t)

4. 60% cotton, 40% modal, bright red with a touch of pink (watermelon, carmine? this one is also damp in the photo)

Method: The dye packet (32g) was enough to dye 500g of fabric, and each shirt  is about 250g. For dark colours, they advised to double the dye amount. I used the whole packet, stove-top method, and added 250g salt per the instructions for cotton. So this was the correct amount to dye one shirt dark, or to tint two shirts.

After: shirts 1 & 3 have been dyed, 2 & 4 have not

After: shirts 1 & 3 have been dyed, 2 & 4 have not

I started with shirt #3, one of the purples. It became a lovely dark eggplant/aubergine (it has the darkness and slight muddiness of navy, but reads as purple), which is darker than I had in mind but I’m quite happy with it anyway.

Then I threw in shirt #1, the blue. It was in the pot for about 20 min and I was less attentive to it than the first shirt but the colour came out even. My goal was to dull the colour somewhat without making it terribly dark. It became light navy blue (if that isn’t an oxymoron), which is 2-3 shades darker than before and basically what I had hoped for.

I didn’t dye shirt #2 – I wanted to see how the other purple shirt turned out first. I also didn’t do #4, the red one; since the original colour is so different from the dye and I lack dyeing experience, I figured it would be wise at this point to try a colour closer to the original.

While putting together this post, I found a handy website that allows you to search for colours using a colour chart rather than text: encycolorpedia.com.

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Japanese old man trousers

There have been a few changes around BST since my last post:

  • I bought a new point-and-shoot camera (this might have happened shortly before the last post)
  • I bought a remote to use with said camera
  • the snow melted
  • *** my husband is back from the UK over the summer ***
  • I got a new laptop

The problem with the old laptop was that the monitor crapped out. I’m told that I can plug in an external monitor and do what I need to do, but I haven’t gotten to that yet, so my data move (including photos) is still incomplete. Nonetheless, I feel like I have what I need for blogging that is slightly less infrequent than it was.

I haven’t been completely idle sewing-wise in the interim. For one thing, I rediscovered my samue (a.k.a. samui) from my days of teaching in Japan. This is very much like a martial arts uniform with a few differences. Most obviously, the fabric is indigo rather than white. Mine also has a fine waffle weave, but I suspect this is not the norm. The jacket has a patch pocket on the front (which I imagine to be used most often for a pack of ciggies). The trousers have elastic at the waist (the uniforms traditionally tie but they seem mostly to be elastic too these days) and at the ankles, and side slant pockets. They also have an odd sort of fly: there is a front opening that doesn’t go all the way to the top, because the elastic goes all the way around, and the opening closes with a single button on a hidden button placket. (Kind of like men’s underwear with the escape hatch. Which, I am told, no one actually uses, so why do they even bother? Anyway.) The trousers actually rather resemble sweatpants (tracksuit bottoms) but made of a woven rather than a knit.

I associate this outfit with old Japanese men on the basis of a sample size of one: my former landlord. Who smokes.

Around the time that it ceased to be winter this year, I started wearing the jacket as a light housecoat in the mornings. One day when doing some gardening, I figured that the pants would be an improvement over anything else in the closet in terms of protecting me from mosquitoes. The only problem was that the rise was so long (low-rise these ain’t) that either the crotch dragged around my knees or I had to roll the waistband three times. I figured I would get more wear out of it if I altered it. Rather surprisingly, the inseam length was fine, so alterations were only required at the top.

samue pants before

samue pants before

(Fit photos reveal posture issues that are otherwise much less obvious.)

samue pants before: note super-long crotch length

samue pants before, with the waist about where I’d want it: note super-long crotch length

First I opened up the waist casing and removed the elastic. Then I stitched up the fly; I had considered removing some of the layers (all interfaced) but decided to leave it as is because I would have had to engage in significant surgery. I also stitched up the pockets and cut off the pocket bags, since not much of an opening would be left and they’d be unusable anyway. Then I put on the pants, held up with a length of elastic tied around my waist, to see about marking the new waistline. I ended up whacking off quite a lot; my waist is lower in the front, so it was about 5″ at the front and 4″ at the back.

One odd thing that I noticed was that, in addition to the elastic, there were also small pleats at the front: one on each side, with a depth of 1/2″ (take-up of 1″). If one can put pleats in an elastic waist, surely darts are no worse? And if you can do it on the front, why not the back?

Because of my shape (slim with booty), when I tried on the pants with the elastic, the back was a wrinkly mess. I decided to try putting in a couple of darts on each side, like regular dress pants. The waffle weave made it easy to follow the grain to transfer the darts on one side to the other side, which I did meticulously. But when I tried them on again, they didn’t look right. I had assumed that the pants were cut on grain. Uh, no. I made the darts relatively even by eyeballing them and called it good.

Rather than just fold over the bulky fabric to make the casing, I cut a separate piece from scrap broadcloth for the inside.

samue pants after

samue pants after

While taking the photos, I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before, which is that I probably took too much width out in the back darts to be in proportion to the bagginess of the rest of it, so the volume kinda puffs out at the bottom of the darts. I can live with the pants the way they are and am not going to make any further adjustments: they’re slouchy work/lounge pants that I don’t intend to wear anywhere more public than my front yard. However, I think I can use this darting technique on other drawstring pants, so I’ll file this bit of info for later. I also think I may have shortened the CB a smidge more than would have been ideal.

samue pants after: awkward amounts of volume

samue pants after: awkward treatment of volume in the back

The pants are great for gardening, sitting on the couch with a book on the weekend, and at some point when the weather gets cold again, I will probably try them out as thermal pantaloons (under a skirt) for dance.

I can’t say I’m big on mending, alteration and refashioning, but when confronted with an item that is unwearable because of fit or being worn out, it becomes a very low-risk project to my mind. If I had made these pants from scratch, I suspect I would have been rather disappointed by the final fit that I achieved. But I took an item that was unwearable and made it quite serviceable. (This attitude would probably serve me well for from-scratch sewing too – will have to try to remember this.)

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new process and forward motion

It’s been almost two months now since I instituted my new approach to finding time for sewing. Because there are always lots of little decisions to make when sewing, and I’m generally tired and indecisive in the evening, I prefer to sew with “morning brain”. That means that weekday evenings are out. Also, I always feel like there’s something else I should be doing on a Saturday morning, like cleaning or provisioning. So I’ve assigned sewing to a three-hour slot on Sunday morning (I give myself 3 hours from whenever I get started, even if it’s after 10).

I’ve assigned other weekend tasks to other time slots, so not only do I allow myself to sew during sewing time, but I also don’t permit myself to do the other stuff. I don’t have to worry about spending too much time on sewing either, since I have a “budget”; if I want to come back sewing after I’ve done my other tasks, I can, though I haven’t yet.

This system has been working well for me so far. One thing I’ve noticed is that once I start sewing, I don’t want to stop. I originally assigned the slot to sewing and laundry, but I’ve been noticing that I haven’t wanted to count laundry time against the total. It’s is a bit of a surprise for me, since my prior routine was: think about sewing, decide I was too tired, don’t bother starting.

I’m also getting a better idea of how much time I spend on projects. (A lot.) Research often takes a lot of time, and I take my sweet time cutting too. I could speed up if I wanted to, but I don’t think I want to. This isn’t a race, and it isn’t an attempt to create a vast, teetering pile of stuff. I have no desire to transform the stash (which is by definition essentially unusable as is) into a pile of garments that I don’t like enough to actually use. Why waste my time? Sometimes my research crosses the line into agonizing, but as long as I’m learning and moving forward I think it’s all good. If I keep working on a particular fit or skill, eventually I’ll get there and I won’t agonise any more.

Actually, a nice side effect that I wasn’t anticipating is that when I have three hours to fill with sewing, I agonise a little bit then get bored with it, which seems to push me to make a decision faster than I would have if I’d completely changed gears. This is good.

I have two current projects. One doesn’t look like anything yet. The other one is almost there so I think I’ll wait for the big reveal. However, to pique your interest, here are the fabrics I’m working with.

20130317-121319.jpg
Top: medium weight linen in “wisteria”. Bottom: polyester knit, background is plum.

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