Seam Ripped

a sewing blog without the sewing

ne-cess-it-y

First off, totally fine.  Had surgery this (yesterday, now—er, three days ago in the. . .) morning, and am hobbling about relatively well.  Answers to all manner of communication forthcoming, including finishing up answering comments to the last post.  I am just breaking the rules all the time, reader.

On to the post: I like doing experiments.  Nooooooo.  Yeeeeessssss.  At the end of last year, I decided that I would keep ten patterns (plus patterns for UFOs) around the house, and then edit down my selection of fabrics to suit those ten patterns.  Everything else was sent to live in New York with Mummy Seam Ripped, because there obviously isn’t enough fabric up there, anyway.  The one mistake I made was making a really internship-centric list of fabrics and patterns, because, due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to give up my really fancy and hard-won internship, I didn’t need all of my envisioned tweed skirts and silk blouses.  So, a lot of the patterns and fabrics languished because I am a frock girl through and through, but I made some pretty interesting (or interesting-to-me) decisions that I think might be worth sharing in a more in-depth post.  Usually, I marry fabric to pattern and absolutely, positively refuse to compromise on the original vision.  Recently?  Not so much.  It’s been illuminating.  Did you know that you could diverge from your original plans?  That’s a thing you can do, reader.  I know.

To start with, in addition to the eight staid separates and sheaths for work, I kept S1609 and a McCall woven wrap dress I can’t be bothered to look up, and patterns for which I had UFOs: Colette’s Beignet, Hawthorne, and Zinnia, M6696, plus a Belladone.  Instead of requesting that my mother just send me down patterns, I ended up buying just a couple off of Amazon and from Finch.  Namely, McCall 6931, Simplicity 1689, and the Grainline Alder and Linden patterns.

Phew.  After writing that all out, it doesn’t seem as if I was all that limited.  Truth be told, I wasn’t.  And yet.  I got used to having upwards of fifty (tiny compared to other pattern stashes, I know) patterns hanging around at any given time.  I’d wake up and think, “I really should make an S2215, shouldn’t I?”  And then not have the pattern.  Or the fabric.  Or any way to just hop in the car to go to Jo-Ann to get the two of them, mostly because I neither have a car nor know how to drive nor live within ten miles of a Jo-Ann.  (Though, there is a Hancock’s in Alexandria.  I repeat, there is a Hancock’s in Alexandria.  Field trip leaves from my house at 08h00.  Get it together, ladies.  This is not a drill!)  The patterns I did buy, I cut open and made immediately.

I’ve had an otherwise stressful semester, so productivity has gone down; however, I no longer feel damned (damned, I tell you!) by my two-to-three-yard cuts of fabric.  With 2 yards of fabric, you can make a dress, reader!  That never occurred to me.  1.5 could very well be a skirt, if you cut it the right way.  I think my penchant for full skirts blinded me to the possibility of an economical use of fabric, besides blouses (which I’ve decided give me no joy).

In any event, that experiment is done, and now I’m itching to start a new one.  I did just panic-purchase a trillion yards of cotton, because I had one piece left under my bed (don’t judge me), so my spring-summer plan might be to simply settle all of my UFOs (all of which need one or more of the following: armhole binding, buttonholes, buttons, hems, waistband stitch-in-the-ditch.  Fancy that, my least favorite sewing tasks!) and to sew through my new cotton boon.  To boot, I’m trying to make no more than five shirtwaist dresses.  I know, right?  This is madness!  Here is my UFO tentative plan and my learning outcome goals:

1. Finish the Alder and fix and/or finish all shirtwaist dresses.  Learning outcome: Conquer the collars and waistbands.

For some strange reason, those fold-under-and-sew tricks never, ever, ever work for me.  Not with pinning, not with basting, not with my walking foot, not with modified presser foot pressure, or even with modified patience.  Never.  Surely, there is a reason behind this, and this summer I’m going to get to the bottom of it.  To that end, I have to finish the Alder whose collar I’ve unpicked seven times, and also finish up my three unfinished 6696s (hems, buttonholes, armhole facing, buttons), and my Hawthorne.  You will probably never see them modeled photo-shoot style, so I figured I’d show them to you on Trixie.  You’re welcome.

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2. Gussy up the Belladone.  Decision-making!  I’m a fairly decisive person when it comes to school and work, but with hobbies I just waffle myself into incompletion.

It that my wonky stay-stitching?  Yowza.  Well, that’s gonna get fixed.  Also, I have to decide where to put the remaining piping.  I’ve got piping all over the back and on the pockets (which I rather regret), so I’m debating the neckline and armholes.

The skirt is not attached, because I didn't love the way it was lining up.  Piping around the neck?  Armholes?

The skirt is not attached, because I didn’t love the way it was lining up. Piping around the neck? Armholes?

3. General laziness and/or disgust.

BHL Anna Nanette Lepore fabric

I am the only person in Bloglandia who hates her Anna.  My waist is higher than Trixie’s, and I’ve had to lengthen the waist by an inch.  Though my thickish linen-blend did cause some waistline unevenness, this photo not level, and I think a good press would solve a lot of problems.  The floral placement might be what got me.

Christine Haynes Emery

 

I love this dress.  It fits better on me than it does on Trixie.  It literally just needs a hem and to have its lining attached to the zipper.  Why the delay?  I thought it was a little too 1950s when I tried it on.

charlotte’s miscellany

So, my machine decided to have an. . .emotional incident while we were muslining what is essentially a prom dress (Simplicity 1689, without that weird flouncy thing; I’ve since proceeded to find, via GOMI, a Lekala pattern that is exactly what I wanted in the first place).  Where were we?  Yes.  The whole sewing-through-recovery thing is out the window, as Demeter has to take a trip northward to spend quality time with her Uncle Harvey, which doesn’t sound at all creepy.  I’ve had a few half-post ideas floating around in my head for a bit, and I couldn’t quite figure out how to round them out into full posts, so, since spring break is waning, and my posts are likely to taper significantly with my avalanche of deadlines, I figured I’d treat you to a half-baked Seam Ripped post.  You’re welcome.

Isn't it wild?

Isn’t it wild?

Screw it, I’ll show you the pattern that ruined my machine first.  Why not?  I’ve been a little afraid to try a Lekala pattern, but the Simplicity sans flounce has traumatized me sufficiently that I might venture into Lekalaland.

Thing the first:

Are there really small, borderline-insignificant things that have improved your sewing markedly?  Here are mine:

– Pin perpendicularly, stupid.  (Susan Khalje is apparently up for beatification in real life, but is super duper mean in my head.  Though, I think the first time I saw this was in a Claire Shaeffer video, or in a Singer book?  I have no recollection; I just do it.)
-I used to be a pinimalist, now I pin and Wonder Clip as if my life depends on it.  Notches not lining up?  Pins.  Mismatched stripes?  Pins.  Pleats getting caught in your seams?  Pins.  (Also basting and improper pinning, but you see where I’m going with this.)  Just don’t sew through them, if you enjoy having a complete set of eyes, yes?
–  Stay stitch, stay stitch, stay stitch.  I forgot to stay stitch my Alder’s neckline, it grew 2mm, which was just enough to ruin (ruin!) the collar.  Stay stitch.  Trust the woman who is making a new and improved collar stand and is doing 11th-hour stay stitching.  It takes two minutes.
– Collar and collar stand on the cross-grain, and interface top and bottom of both of them.
– You know that interfacing with the glue dots?  Go burn that right now.  Even-spray for life.  I get mine from Steinlauf and Stoller, but I hear that you can get it from your local fabric store, too.
– Sandwich.  Here’s how it goes: carbon paper face-up, fabric, pattern.  Trace.  Then, you take the pattern off, flip the fabric, and trace the existing carbon paper lines.  I did not know this.  This was not a thing in my life.  How?  Why?
– Buy some carbon paper.  Susan Khalje sells it.  I get mine from Pacific Trimming in New York.  I have fewer wrinkles (on my face, on my fabric, as a metaphor for my life and time) because of it.
– A clapper is a heavy piece of wood.  Get a piece of wood and put it on top of your seam when you’re done pressing it.  Textbooks work in a pinch, but some are non-porous and get steamy.
– While we’re talking about seams, when pressing, wait until they cool before moving on to the next one.  Doesn’t that make sense?  I do it with my hair, why did it take me so long to do it with my seams?
– Press your darts inside out, then inside in. This has made a huge, huge difference for my bust point smoothness, but it might just be my shite pressing skills.
– “I don’t need a press cloth.”  Oh yes you do.
– “I can use tin cans as pattern weights.”  Now you’re just being daft.  Ask me how I know.
– Everyone has a golden ratio.  Mine is 30-30-40.  Oh, what did you think I meant?  30% prep, 30% sewing, 40% pressing.  Yes, I spend a lot of my time pressing.  This is why I spend most of my other time with my chiropractor.
– Snip and rip makes you feel like a badass, but really helps keep your fabric on-grain.  I snip and rip on grain, do loads of smoothing, and then pin the selvedge evenly to make my life easier.  It really does make a difference.
– “It really does make a difference,” is this piece’s refrain.

How about you?

Thing the second:

I want one of you to start a blog series called “In Too Deep,” where a novice tackles famously hard projects.  Runner’s World has a great feature called “The Newbie Chronicles,” which, you guessed it, chronicles a newbie’s entrée into running, which is meant to get more people running.  I love it, and it is what got me running, and running is what got me spinning and yogaing and doing a whole bunch of other stuff.  I think it would even be interesting to see a beginner-to-intermediate sewer do a project from a Japanese sewing book, the couture jacket, Burda magazine or Marfy patterns, Alabama Chanin, or vintage Vogue plus difficile patterns.  I do wish one of the sewing magazines would do this, and have the beginner do it under the tutelage of, say, Natalie Chanin or Susan Khalje.  This occurred to me after reading the Coletterie piece on DIY Anxiety.

I think the reason why a lot of us get stuck in ruts is because a lot of us get stuck in ruts.  But that’s a tautology!  (A professor’s kids play a game called “That’s a tautology!”)  Everyone finds sewers with whom they identify.  I love reading Julie from Jet Set Sewing or Amanda from Amanda’s Adventures in Sewing, but I don’t identify with their sewing, because they are much better than I am.  Full stop.  I think that most sewers need someone whom they think is on their level to test the waters for them, which should dissipate the dreaded DIY anxiety, and ultimately attract more people to sewing.  If everyone else is sewing “safe” dresses, then why do you have to go on an adventure, anyway?

Thing the third

How many of you people are in the DC area, really?  I’ve been chatting with my (awesome) hairdresser about this, and we need to have some sort of sip-and-sew situation that does not involve me going to Leesburg, because I do not know how to drive, and it takes something ridiculous like three hours via bus.  Not happening.  I’ve thought of a good Metro-accessible space, and though we’d probably all need to pay something to rent it out and haul over our sewing machines, it would be nice to meet y’all and socialize.

I was at Joann a few months ago, and found the coupon book of someone who lives on my street, five blocks away.  FIVE BLOCKS.  Outrageous.  I almost wrote her a note.  She left the coupon book on the pattern cabinet, so you know she sews.  This is ridiculous, people.  Let’s get it together.  Western Virginia is beating us.  Western.  Virginia.

Thing the fourth:

On Adwoa’s advice, I got the Vlisco fabric in green!  So, look forward to perhaps never seeing a dress made out of it.

Okay, I have to go do homework, but maybe we’ll see each other soon, yes?  Maybe we won’t.  Who knows?

how bad do you want to be good?

I was on the subway, in high school, with my best friend.  Above her was an ad for a for-profit college.  “How bad do you want to be good,” it asked.  I snickered.  “How badly do you want to do well (Steve Jobs)/good (Gandhi)?”  Who the hell wants to be good, anyway?  I’m sure that Katherine Gibbs or whatever it was had soon tanked—on those very grounds, no less.

A few years ago, I was watching The L Word, that old bastion of realism and truth, and heard Max tell a story about crabs.  Apparently, you put a whole bunch of male crabs in a barrel and they build a ladder to get themselves out, but the female crabs are the reason why everyone holds one another down.  I don’t buy it, neither does Google, but I was reminded a bit of this when my favorite Tidbits sent me this Man Repeller piece on women in fashion.  Why is fashion so male-dominated?  Well, is fashion male-dominated?  How are we defining male-dominated?  Are we talking about the male-female ratio of designers, creative directors, stylists, assistants, models, editors, CEOs, the people who sweep up afterwards, WHO?  Oh, we’re talking about designers.  Good.  Why does the Man Repeller writer zero in on designers?*  Would you believe that a favorite professor has accused me of always answering questions with questions?

Dries van Noten FW15 (Vogue)

Dries van Noten FW15 (Vogue)

I find her line of reasoning problematic for a few reasons.

1. Head designers are just that.  Heads.  There are necks and loads of other moving parts that make a design house what it is, and while a creative director and/or head designer is a centrally important component he or she is most certainly not the only thing that is keeping the house running.  Zeroing in on the head designer, an area where we happen to have a preponderance of males, reminds me of the art v. craft debates.  Is being a designer the art where there happen to be a lot of males, or is designing an art because there are a lot of male designers?  There are seamstresses and beadworkers and stylists and magazine editors who are wiling away at their crafts, never to ascend to the much-vaunted level of artist, of maleness.

2. There are several layers to look at here, and I think that LS scrapes the surface.  Are female names being “discarded” during boardroom talks about who helms a label, or are men producing better work?  If so, why?  This, for me, is the central question.  For years, I thought I was a literary misogynist because I didn’t like any of the work I was reading from female authors.  The answer to my concerns was pretty simple.  I was reading female-authored work that sucked.  Plain and simple.  I read better male work.  Nowadays, it’s actually the reverse.  We’ll talk about that another day, though.  If the work is bad, why is it bad?  By which rule is it being measured?  Who sets the standards, and are there problems inherent in them?  Let’s say it’s not about the work: Are men socialized to view ambition differently, and to assign themselves a different (say, more active) role within their self-constructed view of their careers, and thus navigate the workplace differently?  Is that what this is?  I read ski books all the time, and Ski Woman’s Way critiqued Skiing from the Head Down for dismissing as absurd the influence of your mother telling you that doing something was improper.  Nice girls are not the ugly sort of ambitious.  They are good friends, good daughters, good people, good girls.  Good girls don’t ski hard.  There are also probably a lot of other, useful-in-the-workplace things that they don’t do, either.  It’s unbecoming, after all.

Banana Republic FW15

Banana Republic FW15 (Style.com)

3. She’s looking at high-fashion, high-concept houses.  I’m not saying that they are beyond the intellectual grasp of the everyday woman, but they certainly are beyond the means of your average person.  Marissa Webb helms Banana Republic’s creative team, Jenna Lyons is at J. Crew, Lisa Axelson is at Ann Taylor.  Zara was cofounded by a woman.  Why focus on luxury?  While they do, to a certain extent, set the tone, the Internet means that we’re moving beyond the age of Miranda Priestly’s cerulean speech.  

Furthermore, the people who own the conglomerates that control luxury houses are frequently not self-made.  Luxury is often the product of the snowball effect of antiquated European succession laws, (some of) which only recently shook off their gender bias.  So, yes, males like Pinault and Arnault were able to head PPR (which I think is now called something else, isn’t it?) and LVMH, and now Delphine Arnault gets to benefit from selective placement the way that generations of men did before her.  Let’s not even get into the influence of male perspective on the selection of which houses got bought and thus preserved, or which designers got hired.  I’m not saying it’s fair, I’m not saying it’s right; I’m just saying it is.

Here’s the thing: I love fashion.  I’ve gotten the, “You?! love fah-shun?!” googly eyes before, and the answer is yes.  I look forward to the shows every season, even the weird liminal resort and pre-fall ones, and follow fashion news with great attention.  Naturally, I have strong opinions about this.  When I think about the way that I break up every season, there are two camps: Shows where I think, “Damn, I want to sew those things,” and shows where I want to be that woman.  The latter are usually Dries van Noten, Wes Gordon, Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, Ghesquiere when he was at Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs when he was at Louis Vuitton, and the less-celebrated Italian houses like Max Mara, Kiton, and Piazza Sempione.  Also, Akris.  Always Akris.  I want to sew things from Lela Rose, Oscar de la Renta, Dior, Stella McCartney, Carolina Herrera, Céline, Chloé, Tibi, Milly, J. Crew, and the like.  There are a lot more women on the latter list than on the former.  I have no idea why that is.

Lela Rose FW15

Lela Rose FW15

Self-interrogation time.  Is my aspiration to be the sort of woman presented in male-produced shows the product of my desire to reflect our culture’s phallogocentric (fancypants crit theory word drop for the privileging of the male perspective) view of women? Do I then “settle” for the feminine?  Do you?  I’m not sure.  I need more time with it.

*The piece itself kind of hops about.  Its URL shortens to female CEOs, it talks about designers, but the title umbrellas out to fashion generally.  I’m not sure where the author stands, quite frankly.

voyage into the land of eileen fisher

A quick announcement/request before we get started on today’s post.  Does anyone have/is anyone willing to part with this Vlisco fabric?

I’m actually quite surprised that there isn’t a huge Vlisco secondary market, like there is for Liberty, given how many yards you have to buy in one swoop.  I’ve scoured eBay and Etsy, and even reached out to a couple of people who were selling sketchy “inspired” garments, but have come up with nil.  My thesis is on sub-Saharan African gender equality, the textile and apparel eligibility provision of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and labor force participation, so I’d quite like to present it in this fabric.

Naturally, I would pay you.  In money.  Ain’t none of that hug shit happening here.  (I think I’ve given up on cleaning up the blog, reader.)  Please do let me know, reader.

*****

On to the actual post.  So, due to new medication and old stress, your old Seam Ripped is considerably rounder than she was this time last year.  Last October, I measured in at around 40-30-41, and now we’re around 42-32.5-44.  Perhaps I spend far too much time on the Internet, but it sometimes seems as if everyone is either rapturously in love with their bodies or providing us with #fitspo.  Meh.  I’m sure a lot of it is performative and self-perpetuating, and not everyone falls at the extrema, but damn it’s a little suffocating.  I’m mildly dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, but I’m addressing it by eating fewer doughnuts.  A surprisingly difficult task, as I live a mere eight blocks away from what, for my money, is the best doughnut shop in DC.  That’s neither here nor there.  I’m also having surgery in a week and a half, and getting shelved from rigorous physical activity for something like a further two-to-four months after that (which is why I am writing this from Charlotte’s House of Mirth, and not the overnight train to Chamonix, sigh).  I’m trying to figure out what this means for sewing.  As of now, it means elastic.

I remember Oprah giving a tour of her closet (note that I cannot, as of this moment, locate my glasses, keys, or wallet), and saying that she has every size in there from an 8 to the land of elastic.  There’s something weird about knowing that your general equilibrium weight is two stone (my favorite unit of measurement ever, ever, ever) less than where you’re sitting and happily slicing into your nice silk.  That said, I’m as uncomfortable with the notion of not cutting into the nice silk as I am with the notion of cutting into it.  Implicit in the act of saving it for “better days,” is the idea that your current body doesn’t deserve it, which is bullshit if I’ve ever heard it.  It runs completely orthogonal to all but two things that I believe in.  The two mischief makers?  There are better ways to spend time than doing alterations.  Thou shalt not cut into the good fabric if you foresee waste or unavoidable calamity.

There’s also the secondary issue of what your larger-you style looks like.  My true style self is a weird cross between eccentric, 1970s billionaire and disgraced politician’s second wife.  I want knuckle-sized earrings and garish prints on one day, and tasteful low-rent Jackie Kennedy khaki Halston with closer-to-God hair the next.  With the larger size wardrobe, I’ve been making a lot of solid knits.  I’ve been so bloody bored of them, a lot of them remain unfinished.

We’ve had the discussion about style, and figuring out what one’s style is.  When I had an enormous abdominal tumor, I wore vintage-style dresses with dish plate-size flowers.  It seemed subversive, to have a wildly non-traditional figure juxtaposed with such a traditional silhouette.  While intellectually, I thought that in my solid knits I was sewing versatile basics for work and size fluctuations, I wonder if maybe there’s something else at play.  Maybe part of this whole equation is the desire to not be noticed?

[Long aside: I was at Patagonia in Georgetown the other day, trying desperately to buy a ski jacket.  I walked in—it was a hair more crowded than usual—and tried to find some help.  [crickets]  “Excuse me, could you—”  “I was hoping to—”  “Pardon, but do you know—”  All of the sales associates seemed to beeline past me, to other customers, as I was talking.  One, and sometimes two, sales associates were hanging fleeces kitty-corner and within sight and hearing range of me, and they kept on as I accidentally knocked over a display while helping myself, without even turning my way.   My attempts were intercepted twice, and I had opened my mouth to ask for an associate’s help as he walked past me and asked the woman three feet behind me if she needed anything.  I suppose the most logical explanation is that the Witherspoons of years past ravaged the ancestral village of Yvon Chouinard, and the cool indifference is the product of a centuries old grudge.  Other than that, I’m thinking that I might not dress or behave to get noticed.  I think about the people—women, actually—who managed to wordlessly get the sales associates’ attention as I was trying rather desperately to do just the same thing.  Cool, tall blondes who needed only cock their heads before an associate beelined towards them, and I think about my mother’s ability to go into the shoe section of a department store and get all of the associates swarming her like moths to a flame (while she is in jeans and a t-shirt, no less).  I, meanwhile, always want to stand on a crate and say “WHO DO I HAVE TO [redacted] TO GET HAAAALLLPPP?!”]

I own a tripod, and a camera, but I have decided to keep in the tradition of crappy Seam Ripped photographs.  You’re welcome.

So, I made two more Monetas.  The second one had a wonky waist, and I have to fix a hole that I made while overzealously seam ripping the clear elastic (blog has its name for a reason, y’all), so you won’t see it, outside of the “clear elastic is the devil, whhhhhyyyy?!” Instagram photo.  By the bye, Trixie (my dress form) is always wearing a necklace, which I find curious, because I own several necklaces, but never wear them.  I like the idea of them, and see people like Jenny from Cashmerette and Kelly from True Bias doing the statement necklace thing and think, “That’s so chic.  I shall do that,” then I proceed to do nothing.  They feel so. . .conspicuous? on me.  I only just got over wearing sunglasses outside, though, so don’t take my word for it.

Also, this was my first time twin-needling, and I’m trying to figure out if the tunneling is the product of the unironed stitch witchery, or if I messed up.  I should probably just press the stupid hems to figure it out, but I like a little mystery in my sewing.

Seam Ripped: Now with more litter box and cat tree.  Don't ever say I don't keep it real, reader.  This is a weird, double-faced double-knit from Mood, which I happen to love, but its doing that weird boob flap thing.

Seam Ripped: Now with more litter box and cat tree. Don’t ever say I don’t keep it real, reader. This is a weird, double-faced double-knit from Mood, which I happen to love, but its doing that weird boob flap thing.

Are you bored yet?  Let’s check out the dark and seedy Instagram photo of its twin’s waist.

Ugh.  Clear elastic can officially kiss my grits.

Ugh. Clear elastic can officially kiss my grits.  Also, this looks off-grain, but actually isn’t when it isn’t on the dressform.  (Does that mean it is actually off-grain, but good at hiding it?  Is that a thing?)  I think I pulled it onto Trixie a bit too hastily.

Then, I made M6931, and perhaps ill-advisedly used a lightweight silk (I’d hesitantly call it a lightweight crêpe de Chine or a heavier georgette).  I underlined it with a slightly heavier crêpe de Chine, and now I look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man in it.  Not good.

Ignore the fact that the squares are uneven.  I haven't tacked down the waistband, and overtucked that one piece when I was trying to see how things were shaping up.

Ignore the fact that the squares are uneven. I haven’t tacked down the waistband, and overtucked that one piece when I was trying to see how things were shaping up.

I cut out a Mabel with a turquoise wool double knit from Mood, but got so damn bored just looking at it, I’ve yet to take the forty-five minutes to put it together.  Sigh.

Now, I’m on the hunt for tasteful muumuus.  Up next are Grainline studio’s Alder, McCall’s 6885 and 6952, Vogue 1236 (I feel like this was OOP at one point?  I’ve owned it for six years, and have only used it once, woefully).  Maybe the Sewaholic Saltspring, but I’m not 100% sure.  I’m shocked by how reticent I am to shell out real money for patterns, when my threshold is so much higher for fabric.  I suppose it’s because fitting skills and a good eye for drafting can help patterns, and because the Big Four make available some truly good (I know, I am one of five people who think this), affordable patterns for my student budget.  Anyhow, find the proposed patterns below, in the above order, clockwise from top left.

Proposed post-surgical schmattas

Proposed post-surgical schmattas

Do you have any other muumuu ideas for my post surgical, paunchy lifestyle?  Should I just say screw it and make a caftan?

In which I figure out a novel way to answer comments, and pretend that I am a famous advice columnist

And so I have been horrible at answering comments, and decided to finish up the comments from the post before last with a video.  Because I have been practicing French on video for far too long.

Do find the fruitful results below.  I just realized the third thing with which I’m not lazy.  Cats!

how soon is now?

It seems to be Moz Monday here at Seam Ripped (it’s Friday, I wrote this three months ago.  Shut up.  Also, I usually answer all comments before putting up a new post, but am literally posting this so that I can get off my duff and reply to rest of y’all.  So sorry!  I’ve been swamped, which is no excuse).  Let us thank The Smiths for today’s title, and bow our heads for a moment in respect for Moz.

Reader, have you ever read Art and Fear?  In it, there is a quick story about a pottery class where the instructor divided the room in half.  One half was instructed to make the best objects they could, and strive for perfection; the other was told to just make as many vases as they could churn out for the term.  At the end of the term, it turned out that the mass-producing group actually churned out the more technically advanced work.  Who cares?  We’re getting there.

Sometimes I read other people’s blog posts about giving up perfection, and I can’t help but think, “How cute for you, finding convenient excuses for your indolence and allowing yourself to settle.  That’s so. . .nice.”  Yes, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  (Do let me know if you’ve figured out what the second step is, while I rip out my French seam for the seventieth time.)  I like being a perfectionist, but am firmly planted in Camp Free to Be You and Me, and accept that other people don’t have my rabid enthusiasm for getting things just right.

I do wonder if my perfectionism will serve me for the long haul.  This is why I am self-conscious about being self-taught (remind me to tell you about my sewing class disaster): I have no barometer for progress.  I look at people like Julie from Jet Set Sewing, Bunny of La Sewista, and Lori from Sewing Myself Stylish—people who have been sewing for longer than I have, and whose work shows it—and I can’t help but wonder what the steps are between rank beginner and able-plus home sewer.

We’ve talked about the dearth of intermediate sewing books before, but what about the difficulty with defining what an intermediate sewer/sewist/good grief these distinctions are the absolute worst/sempstress actually is ?  Maybe that’s part of the reason why sewing books published today jump from the very rudiments to couture techniques. Before, because large swaths of the sewing population could have been presumed to have similar practical educations and backgrounds, the market research did itself.  Now, the landscape hosts people of all different ages, genders, skill sets, professions who look for sewing books.  Is this why I want to go straight from six-dart, gathered-skirt dresses to the much-vaunted couture jacket?  Am I unacquainted with that which lies in the middle, and am therefore skipping steps simply because I don’t know that they exist?  Then I remember when Meg from Mood wrote on the Sewciety blog about being a younger sewer, banging off a cute dress before a party, and contrasted that with her present precision sewing.

(Complete aside, but isn’t it funny to hear people complain about the decline of the quality of fit of ready-to-wear?  It was much easier to fit a woman if everyone was wearing a similar sort of girdle, with their eyes set on a similar sort of figure, yes?  Now, we try to conform into the same sort of proportional ideal use the dark arts of dis/emphasis, which requires an entirely different set of expectations and tools.  So, it seems natural that there were more intermediate sewing books back when there was more standardized, widespread sewing instruction.)

In any event, I keep patiently waiting to be ready.  Ready for hand-sewing, ready for Alabama Chainin’, ready for a couture jacket, ready to make a coat, ready ready ready ready ready.  I read Amy Poehler’s book (and have mixed feelings about it, but still patiently await her dumping Rashida Jones and accepting another former-Hindu current-badass best friend in me.  I’ve made us a binder!  And bracelets!  Call me?  Also, can we talk about your boyfriend’s dad, just for a second?  I am afraid of him, yet want to be him at the same time (Jules Kroll, for those wondering)), and she made an excellent point.  You never feel ready for the big important things.  Most don’t wake up one day and say, “Hey, guess what em-effers, I’m ready to be a show-runner.  Let’s do this.”  Doubt is normal, doubt is human, doubt needs to get its ass kicked.  Well, not quite.

Have you ever read the book The Gift of Fear (I was not lying when I told you I own a mountain of self-help books about fear)?  Well, in it, there are several hundred-thousand gruesome stories about how you should listen to your gut, your fears.  Hell, you’ve got fear for a reason, and that reason is to avoid being raped, murdered, and left in a ditch as supper for wild animals.  (Too graphic?)  This all happens when you sew something out of your depth, doesn’t it?  Is that not the way this works?

Anyway, after I swim my way out of the land of elastic (we’ll talk about that next week), I think I might do something outrageous.  Good. Fabric.  I’m going to cut into it y’all.  Then I’m going to tell you about it, perhaps with photographs.  Of it on my body.  What now?  Then we’ll go into a long dissection of what it means to have good fabric, a good body, and a good photograph, and you’ll all band together with your torches and pitchforks, make your way up the hill, and burn my house to the ground.  I’m apparently in a dark place today.

*****26 February update: I would leave it there, but I’ve got a quick announcement.  I’m going to be in Paris late next week, Chamonix the week after that, and London for one day after Chamonix week.  I was/am on the fence about posting this (you could say that I have a shyness that is criminally vulgar), as I feel weird about it/go for subtlety and fail miserably, but if any of you live around those places and would like to grab coffee, I’m not only up for it, but I’d be very much obliged.  You needn’t have a blog or anything, you could just want to hang out.  Maybe we could even go buy some fabric?  My email address is seamripped@gmail.com, and I actually check it regularly now.  Though, I have yet to respond to Joost, which I believe makes me the worst person on earth.

*****Second update, because why the hell not/when am I going to post again?  Montréal and Mont Tremblant for Easter weekend.  Why this much travel?  Starting work = ten vacation days a year.  International relations-y school = French proficiency exam during the second week of April.

ceci ce n’est pas une poste*

Magritte’s The Treachery of Images

Hey, reader.  I suppose we could go through the complicated business of apologies and explanations, but let’s not.  I’ve been thinking about it, and I realize that I use the Internet like Quaker meeting.  I speak when I feel moved to say something, and spend the rest of the time in contemplation—reading your blogs (and, yes, GOMI’s Crafting forum**), thinking, and the like.  It’s useful for no one but me, which makes it my favorite sort of anything.  I’ve published posts for the sake of cleaning out my drafts folder before, and it’s just not my sort of work.  Those posts feel a bit sterile to me, you know?

Where was I going with this?  Oh, yes!  I’ve spent the past few months reading around and thinking about sewing, and our community and all of that jazz.  I suppose my posting philosophy—and, yes, I am far enough up my own [I hate having a cleaned-up blog] to actually use that phrase to open a real, live sentence—mirrors my life philosophy [for those of you playing along at home, we’ve just hit Charlotte’s-a-dee-bag-bingo]: I try to leave spaces better than I’ve found them.  I don’t think that five photographs and a thousand words about my Monetas will bring any value-added to the community (feel free to disagree with me, you foolhardy few), so I just hang that sucker in my closet and call it a day.  After all, I’m not terribly original in my sewing.  You could just go visit Mary or Jenny or Neemie or Amanda, to name just a few, to see bangin’ versions of patterns of which I’ve made pale imitations.

But then, that causes a free-rider problem.  The sewing community exists because, yes, it’s a social fact that we’ve agreed to, and we’re bound by silent and not-so-silent rules, some of which make me spitting, raging angry (did I ever tell you about the time that I accidentally knocked off all of the books from my desk, as I launched a scathing rant at a (male) classmate in an English seminar, because he complained that a female protagonist wasn’t nice?  Third rail, reader.  THIRD. RAIL.), but that’s neither here nor there.  It also exists because people write things about sewing, and write reviews of the patterns they use.  In 2007/2008 I literally added every single sewing blog linked to by Pattern Review and Burda Style members to my Google reader [let’s all pour one out for GR] and I still just barely had enough to read.  Now, my to-read list teeters on the brink of untenable, and I have to consciously make a trade-off between number of blogs read and active participation in the community.   Talk about opportunity cost.

Then, I think about the ungodly number of self-help books I read.  They have names like Art and FearA Conversation with FearHow to Discern Whether or Not You Fear the Notion of Fear or the Act of Fearing, Also Fear. . .[Boo!].  Most of them have some variation of the same story.  In Art and Fear it’s a pottery class that’s divided into two: one half is instructed to throw their best work, while the other is instructed to just throw as many pots as possible.  The side that was just going for volume made the technically better work.  In A Conversation with Fear, the author’s husband decided to, quite casually, not come in to eat supper until he missed a basket—and sunk loads of shots in a row.  (The latter text is, incidentally, about skiing.)  In, Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity it is the simple piece of advice “the only way to gain approval, is to stop needing it” (or something along those lines.  “Is to not need it?”  I’m in a coffeeshop some 7 miles away from my apartment and that book, so who the hell knows?).

I don’t know, reader.  I’ve got loads of friends who pretend to not want or need things: to have just happened to have found themselves with tousled mermaid hair and wearing corally-pink NARS blush—reading just that book, in just that way, at just that very particular place where you can have enough witnesses to make it real, but not so many that you can be accused of actually trying to get attention.  To have woken up like that.  I wake up to the promise of tea, try to spend a few lazy minutes playing with the Ladies Witherspoon, and will perhaps blitz breakfast in the blender.  Not because my internal compass told me to soak almonds before eating them or drink green juice, but because the pushes and pulls of desires and interests clashed with lifestyle, aspiration, and the ever-so-sticky issues of class and status,  and wrote me a breakfast menu.  Veni, vidi, vici.

I have to admit that I understand why some people have a visceral distaste for the appearance of effort.  My theory is, it isn’t the actual appearance of effort, but discomfort with the dissolution of the fantasy of eventual effortlessness.  If everyone admitted that they hope to be one promotion or eye cream or sewn garment away from this book deal or that astonishing lack of crow’s feet—if it seemed like we were all trying—then life would seem a little more daunting.  The hope, for me at least, is to reach some sort of equilibrium and then ease off.  But that may never happen.

Oh, yes, the point to all this.  I’m on the fence on whether or not to put actual effort into this here blog, and what that would look like.   We’ve talked about this before, haven’t we?  On principle, I am a big believer in putting in visible effort.  I think it is especially important for women to be unashamed of their ambition.***  Gold effing stars, reader.  I want all of them.  However, I also recognize that sometimes these efforts fail—because of the perceived unattractiveness of effort, or because of discomfort with occupying the liminal space between being internally and externally driven, or because some people simply lack the finesse to gussy up how the sausages are made.  I like that I have enough readers to constitute a pretty comfortable cocktail party, rather than fill a football stadium.  I love looking through my stats and seeing where all of you are from (Sitka Alaska!  I was reading Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and wished I could have written you an email, Sitka Reader!  Wow, that bordered on creepy.  Or, when I was writing my paper on post-war pogroms, I realized I had some readers from Poland.  We have to talk, y’all.)  But!  I don’t feel like I’m a good or good-enough steward of this space, and I don’t think I contribute as much to the community as I take from it (yes, the goods are non-rival and non-exclusive, but still).

Anyway, that is State of the Seam Ripped.  2015: The Year I Try Not to Fuck Up.  Full stop.

* Yo, French speakers!  From what I understand, ceci c’est un blog, but if I were to try to use/translate post, would I feminize it like I would for postal mail, or masculinize it like a job post or a physical space?

**I have a big old rant about how some people sheepishly confess to things like watching Scandal or reading Robert Ludlum novels, as if the mere association with them compromises others’ view of their intellect or good intent.  People, man.  We’re allowed to be multifaceted.  Personally, I consider reading GOMI research, which is also why I watch as many Real Housewives franchises as I do.  Do with that what you will.

***Is it just me, or is it kind of a form of ladder-pulling?  Mindy Kaling seems to get frequently annoyed when young women ask her for advice for how to do what she did.  I’ve read her say something along the lines of, “Am I supposed to tell people to write two-man shows with their best friends and hope to have Greg Daniels in the audience?”  Uh, no, but you could tell people to keep working on something creative, even when they have three roommates and shitty day jobs.  You could also stress the importance of putting your work out there, and not being daunted by rejection, because it happens to everyone. As a bonus morsel, you could add in the usual bit about how the work sometimes finds you, but you have to put yourself in a position to be ready when the opportunities make themselves available to you (insert Matt and Ben example here).  I have no idea why I get so hocked off when I hear MK give dismissive responses to these sorts of questions.  I’m just going to blame the half-or-kind-of South Asian sisterhood, and call it a day.

difficult women

Quick notes: a) I got a job for after graduation!  And an internship for next semester!  Let’s hope I don’t mess it up.  Thanks for the advice and well wishes.  b) It is usually company policy for me to reply to all comments on the previous post before posting something new.  This is a conversation, after all.  Well, fall semester stress has led me to majorly drop the ball on that one.  Apologies!  With any luck, all responses will be logged by this evening.  c) I have, like, a dozen drafts that I need to polish up and get going.  So, if you want to know how my sewing class went (ha!) or whether or not to press gathers, or if you’ve been puzzling over the statistical correlation between imports and clothing expenditure, I’m your gal.  However, it’s really interesting to juggle writing a handful of posts over a handful of months.  It doesn’t feel nearly as seamless as I’d like it to.  So, I guess I’m saying the next month or two of posts might sort of suck.  Completely.  Apologies in advance.

Last year, I was chatting with a friend and I’d mentioned that when I was a kid, my mother taught me the difference between silk and cotton, designer x and designer y.  My friend responded—and I will never forget this, so this is an exact, honest-to-goodness quote—“That’s disgusting.”

I’ve thought about that exchange a lot in the months that have followed, and realize that, in that context, it wasn’t about caring about visual ways in which we present ourselves to others, but rather about fashion.  Fashion being less about self-reflection and contemplation, and more about placing yourself within a cultural moment, and using what you wear as a way of communicating something to others.  I’m tempted to make the admittedly unfair argument that the relationship between clothing, designers, and status makes difficult an designer-as-artist approach.

So what are we really talking about, when we talk about fashion?  Every time someone says “I don’t care about clothes,” I always want to respond, You’re sooooo smart.  I’m sooooo impressed.  Just about everybody wears clothes, which implies that there is a certain extent to which everybody cares about them.  When someone tells me that they don’t care about clothes, what they mean is that they don’t care about a certain type of clothing.  Well, next question: What type of clothing is that?  You can’t look as if you care too much, because that makes you shallow.  Likewise, you can’t look as if you care too little, because that would make you a slob.  Apparently, we’re all supposed to wake up that way (this way?  Bey?  Anybody?).  As if yours is fine taste so well-cultivated, that you no longer need effort, because style is reflexive and your adaptation to context is seamless.  No pressure.

There are two lines of argument when thinking about this.  The first is that we have a finite amount of time, so why spend it thinking about what you wear as opposed to virtue or the plight of the unfortunate or something less superficial.  The second, which underpins the first, is that we should aspire to more refined taste, which transcends designers or trends, and manages to effortless reflect your self-knowledge and knowledge of the world.  Both are bullshit.

When I was in the thick of the job search, I wound up getting invited to all of these pre-interview things, and always found myself Googling “What is business casual NO REALLY,” to no avail.  (I followed the instructions on my first try: a pre-interview reception for an investment bank.  One of the recruiters mistook me for restaurant staff, in my navy ankle-length trousers, silk blouse, and cardigan.  Lesson = learned.)  I may as well have Googled “What do smart/competent/together/employed people wear?”

The answer?  Not this, apparently:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (shot by Ian Williams for The National Post, via Brittle Paper)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (shot by Ian Williams for The National Post, via Brittle Paper), who is smarter, more competent, more together, and more employed than I probably ever will be.

I’m sure by now we’ve all read or at least heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Elle piece on expectations of feminine and/or feminist dress, yes?  Well, have you by any chance seen this photo from the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (or, as it’s known at my house, The Artist Formerly Known as Orange)?

2014 Baileys Shortlist

Donna Tartt’s missing, but just picture a woman in with a raven bob and a slim-cut suit, will you?

These women are leaders in their field, and are writing cutting-edge fiction that not only reflects the state of the contemporary woman, but that of the contemporary world.  Why on earth are you asking us to reduce them to five (and a half) sets of outfits?  Well, reader, is it a reduction or a lateral move?  Is refusing to discuss the clothing choices of these people, on those grounds, not just a reinforcement of the broads-and-clothes stereotype that we’re trying to dismantle?  But they’re not just the clothes they wear!  I hate to break it to you, imaginary not-as-sharp-as-my-actual-readers reader, but neither are models or actors or plumbers or whomever.  There are entire industries built around divorcing the individual from his/her physical self, thus rendering the physical person an object and the internal self irrelevant—which is probably so many people place appearance and substance at odds with one another, and cannot afford each them the same sort of consideration.

Fine.  Let’s step away from that image for just a second, and talk about Elaine Showalter.  Elaine Jesus Christ Showalter.  Retired Princeton English professor and literary critic, and dyed-in-the-wool badass.  Feminist of feminists, king of kings, subject to a snide feminist graduate-student newspaper editorial about her gold briefcase.  Yeah.  That’s a thing that happened.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make, which I didn’t hammer to death in my last two posts in this series, is sometimes I don’t want to wear the Pink Jumpsuit of Larger Responsibility.  Sometimes, it rather sucks to be the sacrificial lamb with the gold briefcase who tosses How to Dress for Success to the wind.  Maybe I’m overthinking it?  I did an informational interview with an alumnus about a month ago, and we were talking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  He said something along the lines of, “She’s a badass woman who doesn’t give a shit.”  Basically, this is the thing to which we should aspire.  The actual not caring about what people think, rather than the performative effortlessness that is undergirded by sleepless nights and thousand-word blogposts.

The Notorious RBG in a Banana Republic bib necklace she got in  the swag bag from Glamour's Women of the Year party.

The Notorious RBG in a Banana Republic bib necklace she got in the swag bag from Glamour’s Women of the Year party.

The key here seems to be understanding clothing and presentation as a part of identity, not a separate entity that eclipses it, nor the single element that defines it, but a piece of the mechanism worth analyzing.  Even Ally McBeal knows it, after being held in contempt of court for wearing short skirts.

I am offended by the fact that what is considered unprofessional is traditionally considered feminine.  And, truth be told, equally offended by the fact that the traditionally feminine is either infantilizing or overtly sexual.  (I have a draft called Meditations on Twee as Fuck, which we’ll get into when I’m spoiling for fight.)  Now, I’m sewing with an office environment in mind, rather than my usual put-a-cardigan-on-it approach to crafting, so it’s disorienting.  Yes, I am going to bring this back to sewing, eventually.

I’m going to uncharacteristically end here, because I have a dozen more drafts to finish up and post, and we’re not getting any younger.  However!  I’ve some homework for you for next time:

Have you read Stephanie‘s post on clothing and identity?  Morgan‘s on dressing like a feminist?  Sarai Mitnick from Colette linked to a really interesting New York Times review of a museum exhibit on women’s use of fashion to assert power.  Also!  Do watch this clip from Mena Trott’s (the dearly, dearly missed Mena Trott) talk at Big Omaha, on art, craft, and gender.

eden is exile

Ed Note: Why the long pause, Seam Ripped?  It is job-hunting season here on my happy old Hilltop.  The fact that I have yet to sob, “I don’t want my cats to be orphaannnneeeeeddd” is apparently a good sign.  If any of you have ever had a job, ever looked for a job, perhaps have never had a job but feel super confident in your advice-giving skills, and would care to say things about that in the comments section, I’d be very much obliged.  Also!  If you’ve written a comment that has languished without response, please do look back for one.  (That is, if you’d like.  Free country, and so on.)

I’m a big believer in going to bed angry. Huge, actually. Well, let’s back up for a second. I’m a huge believer in being angry. I come from long lines of Punjabs and Puritans, warrior goddesses and buttoned-up New England schoolmarms. After years of competing stories about walloping off the enemies’ heads and burning their blood, and the triumph of staid reserve over emotional excess, I’ve emerged with a solid belief in feeling the fury and then. . .nothing. Well, it used to be nothing, but I eventually realized that everything seems a lot less important after a long, hot shower and a good night of sleep. That’s something, isn’t it?

As I was reading Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound, my jaw was in a perma-clench. Confusion, rage, reluctant understanding, grief: lather, rinse, repeat. I write this from vacation, and at breakfast with Mummy Seam Ripped I struggled between tossing the book into the hearth or into the lake. (Librarians of Lau: It’ll be returned on time, if a little scuffed up. You all know how to get rid of tire tracks, yes?) I had to step away. A lot. Take breaks. Walk around. Read other things. Now? Now it makes more sense.

Why was I getting so hot under the collar? Well—and I think this might be true for a large portion of the sewing blog-reading population—I recognize enough of myself in the movement Matchar is identifying to make the text seem personal, but am different enough from her sample set to cringe (cringe) when reading a lot of her examples. Big quote time:

 “It would be laughably retro to explicitly say that a woman’s [roper place is in the kitchen, yet women like JJ and Robin and Addie feel keenly the sense that a “good woman” focuses her energies on feeding her family on the very best, purest food. If food is so important, why wouldn’t she? But in this brave new world of backyard chicken raising and homemade bone broth and hand-mashed baby food, the “best, purest food” is an ever-rising target.” (Matchar 119)

Hasn’t food always been about status, exclusivity, and, to a certain degree, about exoticism? Ditto clothing. I’d wager that the keepers of kitchen have always fretted about the best, though not necessarily the purest. From what I understand, pre-packaged foods were status items, as were the tools of liberation (vacuum cleaners, washing machines, dishwashers). Now, ladies, you have leisure time. Leisure time that you can use for personal maintenance. I don’t think people stopped keeping gardens or line-drying their clothes because store-bought tinned tomatoes tasted better, or even because all of the adults in the family unit got jobs (which would happen later). I think people stopped doing those things because they didn’t want their neighbors to think that they were poor. Not even because those items cost less than a homegrown tomato, but because of the leisure that’s associated with it. In that sense, you were feeding your family the best. Were there very many women who said, “You know what? I’m doing a B+ job of this homemaking thing, and that’s all right”? I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s my 21st-century perfectionism wrestling its way to the fore, but I don’t know very many people who’d be content with doing a B+ job at anything.

A shadowy photo of the book that I took at Kramerbooks.  God, that title was only good when Simon and Garfunkel used it.

A shadowy photo of the book that I took at Kramerbooks. God, that title was only good when Simon and Garfunkel used it.

You know, I wrote the above few paragraphs in early August, and I mean all of it, but I’ve since walked away, returned the book to the library and bought and annotated my own copy.  (See why my blog posts take so damn long?)  Anyway, I couldn’t shake why I was so unsettled by this book.  There are core arguments with which I agree.  The economic downturn has likely contributed to the influx of artisanal this and homegrown that; young people out in the field are finding work unfulfilling; the US doesn’t yet have the social structures necessary to support upward female mobility.  The issue for me is that the very premise of the book requires an embrace of the false dichotomy that led Michael Pollan to make his (outright wrong-headed) comment, “[The appreciation of cooking was] a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.”  It’s not an either-or proposition.  By setting the artisanal movement at odds with contemporary mainstream working culture you’re forcing a choice that needn’t be made.  Why is it surprising that people with “good” jobs who went to “good” schools are opening up ice cream stores and Etsy shops?  Doesn’t that inherently demean their careers of choice?  There isn’t really an ice-cream-store-opening school, is there?  (I suppose an MBA and culinary school.  Maybe some finance experience to pay for said MBA?)

For me, the simplest answer is the right one.  Pink tomatoes don’t taste good.  A fresh heirloom tomato sliced on some garlic-rubbed toasted bread tastes better than some cheese grated over a Trader Joe’s tortilla.  The problem?  That shit’s expensive.  I could buy a black-market kidney for the price of an organic, heirloom tomato and a good, good loaf of bread costs almost ten bucks.  Ten bones, y’all.  These sorts of businesses don’t have the economy of scale that, say, Kraft mac and cheese does.  So, yes, instead of blowing off steam at a bar after work, some people go home and bake bread.  For other people, the opportunity cost baking a loaf of bread is higher than $10, so they buy the bloody loaf.  Say it with me, y’all: And that’s okkkaaayyy.

There’s a part of me that thinks—fears, really—that I’ve missed the point of Matchar’s argument.  Yes, there are people who have made a forceful exodus out of i-banking and into full-time crafting, but aren’t they the minority?  What’s behind Matchar’s seeming discomfort with the casual crafters?  She knits, too; why is this shocking?  (I’m at school and don’t have the book, but there is one line that basically says, “In the 90s, you’d go out dancing with your friends; in the aughts, you stay in and make preserves.”  And in both cases the next day you go to your job—you know that, right?)  This brings us to the title of this post.  (1000 words in, a record.)  When I was on vacation, I read a book of James Wood’s essays, one of which is called “The Homecoming.”  In it, Wood reviews a Marilynne Robinson book called Home, where the characters go back home and find it lacking.  For them, Wood says, “Eden is exile, not heaven.”  What if Matchar is right and we are having a homecoming of sorts?  Only, the source of our anxiety is not the fact that home isn’t the same anymore since we’ve experienced liberation, but that we’ve narrowly defined progress in the creative destruction sort of way (nutshell: we’ve moved forward, created new opportunities, and necessarily have to destroy what was).  Am I reaching, here?  The problem isn’t that we got to Oz and realized it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, but that the very existence of the idea of an Oz makes difficult a life in Kansas.  And now even I’m lost.

Time for a turn-on-a-dime segue: This is evidenced by the sewing community’s really awkward relationship with the idea of home.  Hear me out.  Every time I see someone hashtag an Instagram post of a garment with #handmade, I have to take a walk around the block.  Now, what makes your self-made garments handmade?  You used a sewing machine, a serger, maybe a coverstitch, maybe a blind-hemmer.   Factories use all of those things, with loads of people.  Why is your stuff handmade?  If bought an industrial Juki would your garments no longer be handmade?  What if you made a lot of things assembly-line style?  Got your friends to help?  Sold said items?  When does it stop being handmade and start bearing the implied sterility and hollowness of the “other” garment?  Never?  By this logic, I have a closet filled with handmade clothes.

via Huffington Post

via Huffington Post

Look how many hands there are in this photo!  Okay, off the soapbox and onto the point: I don’t think we use the term handmade as a rejection of the people (mostly women; mostly poor women) who make mass-manufactured garments, or an intentional dehumanization of developing-world labor, but rather the fact that homemade, in the sewing community, tends to mean shoddy, Becky Home-Ecky, happy-hands-at-home.  Much as just about everyone seems to crow about the quality of contemporary ready-to-wear, it is considered complimentary to use ready-to-wear finishing techniques, or to make a garment that looks like it could have been RTW.  (I have a forthcoming post about the alleged decline in RTW quality coming down the pipeline.  I even have visual aids.  Mark your calendars, friends.)  That, and having a homemade dress might harken back to the dark days of oppression (oh, the 1950s); whereas handmade summons visions of happy hobbyists and artisans, working to bring our creativity back, well, home.

Thoughts and feelings, gang?

written on the body

In typical horrifying style, I’m just going to name all of my blog posts after works of literature. Thank you, Jeannette Winterson.

Titian's Danaë with young Eros.

Titian’s Danaë with young Eros.  When was the last time Zeus rained gold on me?  What has Zeus done for me lately, is what I’m saying.  Oh God.  Literally.

Over the weekend (this is now several weekends ago), I went to see Titian’s Danaë at the National Gallery.  I wonder if Titian painted Danaë nude because he was worried about finding the right dress to deëmphasize her midsection or he didn’t have time to head to the mall to have her colors done.  Maybe Danaë spent a long time worrying about not getting enough cardio, locked up in that bronze tower.  Such a pretty face, they’d tell her.  That is, if they ever got to see her.  I hear Lady Godiva had the same problem, you know.  That’s why she rode the horse nude: she couldn’t decide what to wear.

Let’s just say that I spend a long time thinking about discourses of the body.  Is there a less obnoxious term for that?  Afraid not, reader.  Going into reading midcentury style guides, I was worried.  Concerned, really.  Have you ever tried to find a vintage pattern with a 40″ bust?  What about a 40″ hip?  Now, I read contemporary fashion magazines and so much of it seems to be about diminishing and deëmphasis, dressing so that your body can appear to conform to a long, lean, busty, hippy, firm, pretty-but-not-intimidating, sexy-but-not-whorish, smart-but-unimposing Western ideal, rather than align with your personality traits.  If contemporary discourses are so troubling, what would I think about the famously direct Edith Head?  Or Claire McCardell and Adele Margolis who, while trailblazers, were unavoidably products of their time?

Gretchen over at Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing wrote of being surprised about Irene Sharaff “body-snarking” Elizabeth Taylor.  I disagree about body-snarking in that instance, and I didn’t walk into the texts expecting that, as Gretchen writes, “Hollywood [or dressmakers] had more realistic expectations of stars [people] in the 50s and 60s, when a more womanly figure was in fashion.”  Mostly because I’m always disturbed by the idealization of the past, sure, but also the implication that women were more “womanly” in the era of distressing repression after the relative liberation of the 1940s.

Suffice it to say, I went in with some baggage.  A lot of baggage.  I was really pleasantly surprised, though.  More background.  (Don’t you love how this alleged review is basically me talking about me?  Me, too.)  When I first started writing this blog, I used to go back over my posts and add in a lot of I thinks and maybes, to cushion what I was saying.  Now, I do the exact opposite, and go back through my writing to savagely cull all of that.  Of course I think it, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing it, right?  The point is, there’s a directness to these books that I just love, even if I was a bit taken aback by it, initially.  No hemming and hawing and hand-wringing about pleasing and offending.  Just the facts, ma’am.  Por ejemplo:

I suggest the following, in the order I would choose if I were you. First: look at your figure. You know if you’re too fat. Consult your doctor and find out how much you can lose safely. He will be only too glad to help you and if you are really overweight he will disapprove from the standpoint of health. Your figure is adjustable—through diet and exercise. Instead of struggling from one size to another, you will save time and frustration by banishing potatoes. But be realistic. Reducing won’t guarantee a perfect figure if your bones aren’t arranged that way. Accept the fact that some alterations will be necessary and you will certainly save money if you can either do the alterations yourself or find a little dressmaker.  (McCardell 28)

Okay.  Now imagine Nina Garcia writing exactly those words.  Specifically, “You know if you’re too fat.”  She’d be pilloried.  I read a lot of contemporary style guides through Scribd, and did a fair bit of flipping through others at the bookstore.  The advice tends to lean more towards “Buy the right size for you.”  I don’t recall a single one addressing modifying your body to fit your clothes, but all of them suggest modifying your clothes to suit your body.  “Dress for the body you have now, not the one you have in your head,” they say.  Actually, that last bit has been an enduring suggestion.

Let’s hear from Adele Margolis now:

If you’re size 16 [contemporary US size 10-12] or over, you’re out of luck.  Some stores don’t even stock anything over a 14.  Clothing buyers and store managers tell us that the best-selling sizes across the country today are the 10’s and 12’s.  The largest voices and the best buys are in these smaller sizes. . . . If twenty pounds is an out-of-the-question weight loss for one who has lived enough years to consider her evening cocktail and a gourmet meal among the finer things in life, then at least one can think thin and try for ten.  In the ensuing struggle, it’s a comfort to know that it is better to fit the clothes you would like to wear than to make the clothes fit what you are—especially if what you are is anything less than great.  (Margolis 1-2)

Especially if what you are is anything less than great.  Okay.  Take a knee, grab some water, we’re over 1000 words in, and haven’t even addressed Edith Head, yet.

Okay, so there are perhaps, maybe, I think, kind of different ways of expressing these sentiments.  The old man that lives within me—the one frustrated by grade inflation, the everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality, and a stifling dedication to hollow, superficial niceness—is refreshed by Margolis and McCardell’s shit-or-get-off-the-pot approach.  (My will to run a family-friendly blog is flagging.)  They’re basically like really nice aunts, or something, who think that what they’re telling you is for the best.  I say this as someone with a cadre of aunts (and uncles, and parents, and grandparents, and elderly neighbors, and middle-aged neighbors, and maintenance people who work at school) who are far too fixated on my weight for my taste, and from whom “You know if you’re too fat” would be a reserved and tactful observation.

I’ve developed pretty thick skin, as well as a distaste for contemporary veiled body criticism.  Would you rather flip through magazine editorials that school you in the dark arts of figure flattery, delivering alleged compliments about “your tiny waist!  Squee!” while simultaneously telling you how to conceal your hideous, grotesque, offensive-to-all saddlebags?  What is the appreciable difference between that and the two quotes I’ve given you?  (Disclosure: While I’d love to tell you that I am Captain Body Confidence and Positivity, I most certainly am not.  I gained two inches on each calf after a four-ish months of spinning upwards of 6x/week, and am horrified by both my calves and my response to their sudden increase in size.  I am now hoping that Jesus, Mary, and Tracy Anderson will give me the “tiny dancer’s body” that is apparently my birthright as a contemporary woman.  I’m not switching up my exercise regimen because of my health or personal interest.  (I sob softly into my olives every time I hear a Lana Del Rey exercise remix at the grocery store, thinking of tap backs of days past.  “Summertime Sadness,” indeed.)  I’m doing it because I want to buy cute riding boots, and to not have to peel my trousers off of my calves. Point being, I am not immune to this line of reasoning, but I understand why it’s problematic.)

All that preamble to say, after thinking about it, I’m not sure I find what McCardell and Margolis are saying too offensive, actually.  I wish I could quote the entire books for you, but it seems to boil down to, “Listen:  If you don’t fall within this portion of the size range, then you could make efforts to slim yourself down to the region.  You’ll still have to make alterations, but the retail purchasing life is easier if you are within this specified band.  If you don’t, you’ll have to work harder to find or alter things that will allow you to project the image that you want to the people that you want.”  Eh.  Fair enough.  Dressing, it seems, is not about necessarily thinking about what you like, but rather what you want to say with what you wear.  There is a bit of a performative element to it, and while we could dress to reflect our conceptions of self, to ourselves, there are other voices in the room, and those voices are products of our culture at large.  Edith Head writes in the introduction of How to Dress for Success,

The way you dress—or package yourself—is the one thing over which you have absolute control.  You can’t change the size of your feet, the shape of your legs, the color of your eyes or the texture of your hair—but you can change the way you look ads easily as an actress does each times she plays a new role.

When you know what you want out of life—the areas of success you desire—then it is easy to dress “in character” to create the most exciting, pleasing, attractive appearance for your audience. . . .

Women come in a vast variety of recognizable basic types: the cute type, the majestic type, the dainty type, the boyish type, the clinging-vine type, the outdoor-girl type, the sexy type and many others.  Decide right now which basic type you are.  Ask yourself how big a part your clothes have played in making you that type.  Would you rather be a different type?  Would you prefer being chic to cute, looking dramatic to looking majestic, appearing more feminine, less mousey more striking?  What you wear, more than any other factor, can improve the type you are or change your type completely.

It is of first importance that the look you long for be compatible with your success goal.  Does it fit into the picture of you moving rapidly toward the role you eventually want to play?  (Head ix-xi)

Why the long quote?  Well, there are several important ideas here.  The first being about packaging and projection.  While I’m not terribly keen on the implications of the notion that most women conform to easily recognizable archetypes, I freely admit to filing people under certain categories based not just on what they wear, but why they seem to be wearing it.  The best thing about McCardell and Head is that their recommendations for dress are not about you.  Well, at least, they’re not necessarily about your aesthetic preferences within a vacuum.  Both seem to understand that clothing isn’t solely about self-expression, but function.  Function in a literal sense, with McCardell’s monastic dress and down-with-girdles attitude, but also in a very figurative sense.  When you put on clothes, you are essentially advertising a version of yourself to the world.   This is a major difference between books like McCardell’s and Head’s, and exercises like Wardrobe Architect or some of the contemporary style guides I ran across.  The second Wardrobe Architect worksheet asked a lot about one’s personal feelings about not wearing the right thing, or what you feel when when wearing a good-to-you outfit.  McCardell and Head are very much about understanding what you’re wearing refracted through others’ sensibilities and lenses of experience.

I can’t find the page where McCardell says that wearing your ladybug pin for tea with your Aunt Linda, who famously detests whimsy, is misgauging your audience.  It’s not Linda’s problem, but yours.  I feel most like me when I’m wearing a full, below-the-knee skirt, a fitted top (dress bodice or blouse), and a cardigan.  You know what, though?  I really don’t like the way I’m treated a lot of the time.  I hate that people talk to me with a bit of a baby voice, and look surprised when I tell them my major and school.  What’s the answer, then?  Dress like the awesome Janet Yellen?  The fictional and fabulous Diane Lockhart?  Actually, kinda.

Function, for McCardell and Head (we’ve abandoned Margolis, as I read her sewing book), is really about goal-oriented dressing.  Who do you want to be and for whom do you have to perform?  Naturally, I also worry about what that means, for you as a person.  If you wear the mask for long enough, does your face grow to fit it?  This is where I think McCardell especially nails it.  She’s not suggesting macro changes, or looking like a lost little girl wearing her mummy’s clothes.  You’re not a paper doll wearing your doctor/wife/mother/volunteer/bohemian outfit, but rather understanding how to take the baseline you—with your interests, comforts, and capabilities considered—and reconcile it with, then adapt it to, others’ conceptions of the person you want to be.  I took this theology class that got very hippie dippie and talked about sites of meeting and encounter.  For me, the body, through what we wear but who we are, acts as a site of encounter.  It is where self and culture meet—not just for you, but for people who look at you.  There’s something to be said about that moment of silent judgement and assessment.

This is running long (you think?), and I haven’t even skimmed the surface of either book’s advice.  Must stop making navel-gazing digressions.

I really want to address Professor Przybyszewski’s book The Lost Art of Dress at some point (don’t hold your breath), as I listened to an interview with her on the Diane Rehm Show just when I was first writing this post.  (Six whole weeks ago, reader.  I know.)  Basically, she thinks that we’ve become a nation of slobs and that no one cares about dressing anymore, and working on a college campus drives that home for her.  Well, I’ll leave you with a story.  I went to CVS during finals week a few semesters ago, after midnight.  There was a guy from school walking in ahead of me, wearing the dude-bro uniform—shower shoes, too-loose plaid shorts, and a t-shirt that could have used an iron. On the way in, a man had asked us for money for food, but I don’t carry cash, and am always a big fat disappointment in those situations.  Bro bought two packs of blond Oreos and a Gatorade.  “Typical,” I thought, because I am a judgmental shrew and was going through a [school]-loathing period (and I am jealous of the average 19-year-old male metabolism, big time).  On the way out, Bro gave a pack of Oreos to the man who wanted money for food.  “They’re golden,” he said.  And that’s that.

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