me made

Half way in to the month of May, I am ambivalent about participating in Me-Made-May. Not because I don't believe in the idea, I most certainly endorse the idea of encouraging and supporting people who are entering, or expanding, into the world of self-made wardrobes. If you are unfamiliar with the movement, go check out the blogger who started the whole thing, Zoe at So, Zo What Do You Know?.  To see thousands of examples, search any of the associated hashtags like #memademay, #memademay2017, #mmm17, and the like. This movement (is that what we call it?) has been going on for eight years, which I would say is pretty impressive. That dedication and engagement speaks to the call of making our own clothing. I rather love that idea, that it's been going on for eight years, and still going strong. However, with any social movement (I'm gonna use that term unless someone can give me a better one) you have grumblings, and criticism.  I started writing this post on the first of May, but didn't get to a place where I felt like posting it, so I sat on it. And life happened, as well as two weeks of MMM17, so here I am two weeks later. In that time I have seen many many posts of thoughtful people sharing their belief in handmade with the community. Some of the posts are sweet and enthusiastic in their simple joy of having made a wearable garment. I love those ones!  Folks who in the last little while have been introduced to the huge world of garment sewing that feels so big and adventuresome, discovering the myriad opportunities making your clothing brings. And the community of like-minded people!  I do not want to sound in any way jaded, but I remember that feeling of excitement of all the clothes I was going to make. (For a look at my 2015 MeMadeMay, you can go to the About page to see a grid of them) This is not to say that I am not still excited about the garments I have yet to make, and the plans I have. But as I have filled my closet out, and accomplished a certain level of proficiency in making items that I will wear, I have become more discerning. I now find myself with a large closet full of handmade clothes, only a certain portion of which I wear on a regular basis. I need to figure out what to do with the rest of it.

A much worn Sailor top in shot cotton with my Navy Flint pants.

A much worn Sailor top in shot cotton with my Navy Flint pants.

 
A Linden, a Moss, and a Shoreline vest. (to prove I wear colors other than blue....sometimes....)

A Linden, a Moss, and a Shoreline vest. (to prove I wear colors other than blue....sometimes....)

Sailor, Flint, Driftless. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.....

Sailor, Flint, Driftless.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.....

 As Me Made evolves as a construct I see more and more fine tuning and distinction on how to execute it. Coming so closely on the heels of Fashion Revolution week (how many memes can there be?) I can feel a shift in our collective making from impulsive sewing to discerning making.  As a community, our collective closets are fleshing out. We have options. The Slow Fashion idea is becoming a movement that has many tentacles reaching in all sorts of directions. As with any of these modern online movements, some of these ideas can become a little strident in tone, as individuals see an opportunity to make some noise. We are all just trying to connect. I get that, and I can feel a bit like I'm screaming into the wind sometimes myself. But what I really like about Zoe's pronouncement this year is how much each Me-Made-May'er can tailor the movement to their own needs. I can get completely paralyzed by not knowing where the fabric I am sewing with was made, for one personal demon. And then as I spiral down that rabbit hole, thinking about how much unsustainable fabric is in my stash, I stop making, and become depressed, defeated.  This happened a couple times last month after reading thoughtful and engaged posts by people around the Fashion Revolution. And then when I realized Me-Made-May was beginning so soon, I confess I was lost and a bit resentful. How can any one person keep up with the latest ideas around sustainability? Especially when it seems everyone has an opinion about it? I found a reality check in Karen Templer's post, give it a read, and remembered that we each need to do what we can, what we are comfortable with.

Not an inspired Make, but a thoroughly useful one nonetheless.

Not an inspired Make, but a thoroughly useful one nonetheless.

 
A Navy Waver jacket in waterproof poplin. The Closet Case Patterns Kelly Anorak was released AFTER I had already cut this out. Otherwise I would have made one of those.

A Navy Waver jacket in waterproof poplin.

The Closet Case Patterns Kelly Anorak was released AFTER I had already cut this out. Otherwise I would have made one of those.

Shapeless, with room for an under layer, and a hood to keep my hairs dry.

Shapeless, with room for an under layer, and a hood to keep my hairs dry.

 
Lined with flannel for the body and silk for the sleeves.

Lined with flannel for the body and silk for the sleeves.

I was uncertain of my participation in Me-Made-May at the beginning of the month, when I first began this post.  I mean I wear Me-Made every day already, what's the point?  Do I really think my Instagram followers want to see thirty pictures of me in a row....?  Do I want to take a self portrait every day this month? I am struggling with my photography at the moment. When I use my phone on the timer it gives me these weird burst photos that I can't post on Instagram.  Not to mention I can't figure out a tripod situation for the phone.  When I use my camera then I have a complicated set-up to find a neutral background, and I always need to edit the images for color balance and the like. It's been SO grey lately and when I get direct sun it's too contrasty.  My studio is good for making, but not great for photography.  So that's frustrating. 

And then there is the idea around making just for this month, which is really not something I want to do. I just spent three weeks trying to find a sustainable raincoat to purchase, to replace the Patagonia coat I have had for literally 25 years which has finally stopped being waterproof. I cannot find a raincoat to buy that is what I want, that will keep me dry, and that is within my budget. That was a very frustrating process, trying to buy a raincoat! I was reminded how much I HATE shopping. I tried it in person (not easy here in Maine), and when that proved fruitless, turned to the interwebs. Ugh. Not fun. The whole enterprise felt like a personal affront, and a total waste of my time.  Does this sound like a Slow Fashion issue or what? While I was thrashing about searching rainwear made in the US, or sustainable, or small batch, quietly waiting in my studio was the Waver jacket from Papercut Patterns, cut out and half-sewn in some waterproof fabric bought at Mood months ago when I set to making myself a raincoat about six months ago..... Sigh. C'mon Samantha, what are you doing looking to buy a raincoat? I pulled the project back out. It is not my finest make, but you know what? It keeps me dry! A very pragmatic make that has seen a lot of action since I finished it.

Oh yeah baby, my Flint trousers from Megan Nielsen in a lightweight Navy poplin from the stash.

Oh yeah baby, my Flint trousers from Megan Nielsen in a lightweight Navy poplin from the stash.

An Archer on top in rayon from Imagine Gnats. Perfect example of a top I pull out all the time.

An Archer on top in rayon from Imagine Gnats. Perfect example of a top I pull out all the time.

 
The muslin for my Flint trousers. Heavy weight rayon suiting from a most certainly unethical source..... Sigh.

The muslin for my Flint trousers. Heavy weight rayon suiting from a most certainly unethical source..... Sigh.

The past two weeks, while I was on the raincoat quest, I cut out and made two separate pairs of Flint pants from Megan Nielsen. The first pair, while wearable, were a bit clown-like in their oversizedness. [what strange denial am I in that I keep making items to big for my waist in a effort not to make something too small....] But the second pair, taken back in to the pattern's original XL, fits quite well, and made up in some lightweight Navy twill from my stash (that mysteriously appears to be crocking a bit?) is now a highly wearable garment. This process of making up two pairs of pants in a week, made me take a hard look at my making. I know I am not alone at this crossroads. Have you read Karen Templer's post about her Summer of Basics makealong? It would seem many of us are thinking this way.  The idea of taking a whole Summer to make three garments seems like a slow pace, but then that is the brilliance of it. We are all still moving too fast, why does the accumulation of made garments appear more important in it's quantity than the quality of said items? If we're going to have any impact on the industry, we need to act as examples and reduce our ridiculous demand for new new new. Last month's TEDtalks offered up some ideas I read about in a Washington Post article that hit home.  I encourage you to read the WaPo article. The idea banging around in my head was from Emily Esfahani Smith, whose book The Power of Meaning, talks about how chasing meaning makes us happier than chasing happiness. This may sound like a tangent I'm heading out on, but honestly I can tell you that when I am sewing up a button up shirt that I have made a couple times before, in a fabric I love and need in my closet, I am filled with meaning that is just as profound a feeling as happiness. I think that's why so many sewists and makers are focusing their attention on items that they know they will wear over and over again, in fabrics that may not be flashy or exciting, that take a little more time to make. We are all looking for meaning, in our closets as well as elsewhere..... Perhaps even more in our closets at the moment because it is in such short supply in the wider world around us?

 
A Deer & Doe Melilot in some very light rayon that I think I bought from Imagine Gnats. This is a very drapy blouse....

A Deer & Doe Melilot in some very light rayon that I think I bought from Imagine Gnats. This is a very drapy blouse....

 
My Rosa muslin in some strangely nubby cotton that I do not remember buying (surprise...!).

My Rosa muslin in some strangely nubby cotton that I do not remember buying (surprise...!).

The Rosa dress that needs to be reproduced in some drapier fabric. Although it is quite lovely in this By Hand London poplin, in a farmer girl sort of way....

The Rosa dress that needs to be reproduced in some drapier fabric. Although it is quite lovely in this By Hand London poplin, in a farmer girl sort of way....

As my garment sewing evolves I find myself less and less excited about sewing the new, the shiny, the flashy patterns. I still buy them when they come out, no doubt. But I am drawn to classic items such as those designed by Heather Lewenza at Closet Case Patterns and Jen Beeman at Grainline Studio.  I spent a good part of this winter in my two pair of Ginger jeans, my Archers, and various Lark or Hemlock T's layered under my handknits. I made up a Driftless cardigan last month and while it was not an exciting make (Navy cotton knit) it is getting a lot of wear this Spring. So while I would like to make myself a new Elisalex, a Sallie Jumpsuit, a Kielo, I think I may just plug along on my button up shirt vein. I have completed a Rosa top as a muslin, followed by a dress that I rather like the shape of.  This has become my way in to MMM17, to really focus my attention on the basic closet items that I know I will wear daily if they are in my closet, even if they are not sexy makes. And not to be banged out for this month, but at a thoughtful pace for the foreseeable future.  To whit, I was in the mood to cut out a pattern (and I need to be in the mood to do that part of the process) so I cut out two Archers, another pair of Flints and a pair of Hudsons. The Archers have been completed, the Flints are next followed, most likely, by the Hudsons. I feel it's important to mention here that I do not have a conventional job that requires me to go to an office and be accountable to a boss. I do not have children. My time is very much my own, unlike many people I know. I have made choices in my life, long-term, and more recently, that allow me to engage in this dedicated making without interrupting other activities.  My introversion is served by spending hours back here in my studio sewing.  So my output is just that, mine, and not to be compared to anyone else's. While Social Media allows us a window into each others lives, we all need to remember that there is a human being, with all the associated flaws we don't feel like sharing, beyond that window. What we choose to share is a picture we want you to see. It is edited, it is cropped, it is a tiny snapshot of a moment that represents what we want the world to see. So never ever think that because someone appears prolific, and beautiful, and flawless, wearing the most gorgeous clothing made by their own hand, that there is not a side they don't share, that is just as human as we all are. Take the good from these pictures, leave your own insecurities out of the experience.  Every single image you see here was edited by me. Me Made May is not about comparison, it is about celebrating this lovely practice we all share of making something from nothing with our own labor and skill.  And that should be shared without reservation, but with an understanding of the fullness of it.

Makers Gonna Make.

Archer. Grey pinstriped shirting.

Archer. Grey pinstriped shirting.

The pockets are too low on both of these, I am fixing that.

The pockets are too low on both of these, I am fixing that.

Archer. grey linen check. Pocket too low....

Archer. grey linen check. Pocket too low....

Fun with bias....

Fun with bias....

practice

 

 

As my brain slows down to match my current pace, I am rewarded regularly with ideas and thoughts I believed lost, buried, or wasted. It is amazing how much of my creativity was being overrun by the stress of managing a busy life.  I know that I may be running over the same ground, but it keeps hitting me over the head. Slowing down is very beneficial to human beings. When I was a kid I would spend a fair amount of time daydreaming while staring out the window. I find myself falling back into that pattern lately....

 

I recently finished a quilt I made for our neighbors. We live in a rural area, and when it snows, if we are not home, we can get snowed out of our driveway. If we're here when the snow falls, Don will go out and clear the driveway. Full disclosure, I do not know how to operate this piece of equipment.

 
I like putting labels on my quilts. I dream of the journeys they will take, and the story a future user will tell about their history....

I like putting labels on my quilts. I dream of the journeys they will take, and the story a future user will tell about their history....

I'm sure I could learn if I needed to, but that has never been the case. Anyway, when we get a large snow dump, and we're at work, and the plow guys have been down our road, it can be impossible to get into our driveway without clearing it first. So our neighbor often does it for us. He loves his snowblower, and always keeps his driveway clean, and we pay him when he does it. But still I wanted to show him our appreciation in a special way.  Oh yeah, and he was recently diagnosed with cancer. So I made him a quilt. That's the way my brain works. Oh you've had a life change? Here, let me make you a quilt.  I wish my output reflected my intentions, but I am human, and there are only so many hours in the day....

Don very generously held this critter up for photos in the snow....

Don very generously held this critter up for photos in the snow....

 

I think it only fitting that I finished this quilt and photographed it during the last snow of our season, that dumped a foot on our bruised psyches on April 1st. Our neighbor did his trick, but it came down all day, so Don got out there too.... 

Quilts take time. I started this one in early January and finished it late March. The idea for the piecing came to me all of a sudden, and I got about half the blocks done quickly, and then I stalled.  I pushed through and brought the top with me to Savannah for QuiltCon. I took a quilting on a home machine workshop with Carolyn Friedlander and was hoping for some inspiration. When I returned from the South I was laid low by a bad cold which lingered for weeks. So the actual quilting didn't happen till March. But then it went pretty quickly, with ideas from the workshop.  When I finished the binding of this one I thought I might dive right in to another one, but I find myself turning back to garments. Maybe because it's Spring, and a change of season always inspires a new look at the closet....

I have been turning the idea of practice over in my thoughts recently. It is a simple concept, but one that we rush past in our fast lives. When I was young I danced. That is to say, I took A LOT of dance classes. Someone told my Mother I had good feet and she should put me in ballet, so from the tender ago of about, I don't know, ten(?), I went three times a week to study tendu's with a stern British woman named Miss Craske.  She scared the crap out of me, full disclosure, but I had some aptitude for the form and so could live up to her stern glare. I took dance classes from that young age until I was in my mid-twenties. Somewhere there is a photo of me in my leotard in a static pose that floods me with memories. I'll see if I can dig it out. I expanded my dance studies to jazz, modern and even tap throughout my career. And it was, for a brief moment, a career. I was (somewhat) gainfully employed as a modern dancer by a couple of companies, including Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Co for a couple years in the mid 80's.  The point of this reminiscence is to highlight the decades I spent practicing my dancing. The whole construct was so instinctual to me by my teen years, that daily class and rehearsals were the routine that maintained my craft. Do you see where I'm going with this? I would never have walked into an audition for a dance company without having spent years practicing my turns. And yet, somehow, many folks think they should be able to make a dress without any practice. Sewing patterns have directions, you follow them, and then you're supposed to finish with a wearable garment.... Um, no. You WILL get there. If you practice. It is not beyond most engaged people to be able to sew a well-fitting garment of most sorts. You may never get to the level of fine tailoring, or wedding dresses, but you can get to competent zipper insertion, even gathers, and buttonholes. But you have to practice!  You have work on your straight stitches, your accurate cutting, your seam finishes. Each time you make a garment you get better at the steps. Practice does make perfect, or, more importantly, great!  I try not to sound like a schoolmistress when I tell people they can sew, and that they shouldn't give up after their first attempt, but go back to it and try again. And again. And again, until they get it right. When you are starting out you don't want to go for the Archer button-up shirt, but instead try your hand at a Maya top.  Make yourself a simple pull-on elastic waist skirt, and get good at all those steps to it's completion. Your ego will feel better, you'll be happy with a wearable garment, and your muscle memory will begin to accumulate. This is part of the Slow idea. Don't expect to be an accomplished sewist (seamstress) after one week's work. Train yourself, read about the techniques.  Practice, touch a lot of fabric, cut out dozens of patterns, familiarize yourself with sewing terms, get comfortable with understitching, and you'll begin to recognize techniques. You'll get better at it all, and then one day you won't need the instructions. Or your zipper will go in without you stressing about it, at all!  What a feeling that is!  As my friend Lauren Taylor of LLADYBIRD says, sewing is entertaining, it's fun. What a lovely way to learn, by having fun. I'm not saying it's always fun, or that there aren't frustrating moments, but that's the nature of learning. You make progress incrementally, through trials and tribulations, until you absorb the information, and the struggle subsides.  Learning makes you flexible, it makes you smarter, and it gives you empathy for others. And at the end you get that cool skirt to wear.....!

 
I'm loving this new Rosa dress from Tilly and The Buttons in some heavyweight jersey I bought at Mood last trip to NYC.

I'm loving this new Rosa dress from Tilly and The Buttons in some heavyweight jersey I bought at Mood last trip to NYC.

 
An old Tova top, one of my two pairs of Ginger jeans, and my second Tea Leaves cardigan in Quince & Co. Chickadee.

An old Tova top, one of my two pairs of Ginger jeans, and my second Tea Leaves cardigan in Quince & Co. Chickadee.

 
A different kind of Ginger, the skirt from Colette Patterns, and a much loved Archer.

A different kind of Ginger, the skirt from Colette Patterns, and a much loved Archer.

For another angle, take baking. I worked commercially as a baker for about three years total. I left my corporate job as a photo editor at a magazine to study baking, and then went to work in the field. After a season of something like 200 pies, I cried Uncle and looked for a way out. Baking led to my Tennis Elbow, which made me turn my attention from knitting to sewing, so that was a good outcome. But in the middle of it? Not so much. I got into baking for many of the same reasons I sew and knit. Start with raw materials, follow a formula, mess around with it a bit, and come out with a useful finished project. I love that alchemical moment when you beat the flour into your chocolate/butter/sugar/eggs mixture to make brownies, and you can watch the texture change just from the action of your beating. Magic!  And then the finished product makes people smile....? Pretty special.  But doing it on a commercial scale took all of the joy out of it for me.  Too much repetition, and manual labor.  I cut my losses early, and considered it a life lesson. It got me out of an office job. So for about a year after I quit I didn't bake anything. Slowly I came back to it, and now I love it again.  I made cookies this weekend, and fell back into the rhythm of weighing, measuring, creaming, folding, scooping, and baking easily.  But that's because of all the cookies I made badly, or wrong, or burned, or under or over-baked in the past.  We learn by doing, by repetition, by making mistakes and trying again. Just like anything, you don't start out as an expert. Any artist will tell you that they painted a lot of shit before they got to a half way decent painting. Authors can tell you about the years of their life spent writing words that didn't string together worth a damn, until they hit the zone.....and it all flowed.  Practice is how you get good, but you've got to put in the time, make mistakes, screw up, start over, make more mistakes, try again. Till that day when you put on that dress and it fits like it was made just for you..... Ha! It was because you persevered, and practiced, and learned how to do it. The feeling of satisfaction from that type of accomplishment is so much more rewarding than a million followers on social media. Rewarding, practical, useful, and deeply satisfying.....

 
 

make clothes

 
 
A Lila top down sweater, pattern by Carrie Bostick Hoge, knit up in Starcroft Fiber's Nash Island Tide yarn, over a Union dress, pattern by Merchant and Mills, in linen purchased in NYC years ago....

A Lila top down sweater, pattern by Carrie Bostick Hoge, knit up in Starcroft Fiber's Nash Island Tide yarn, over a Union dress, pattern by Merchant and Mills, in linen purchased in NYC years ago....

 

 

In the past five years my wardrobe has become 90% handmade, mostly by my own hands. I do not recite this for accolades, but more to establish a baseline. I sew my clothing for a number of reasons. The instigation was most certainly a changing body, accompanied by advancing age, that made shopping in the outlets available to me quite frustrating. There were days in my youth when I enjoyed shopping, both for clothes and other items. It was a challenge, a hunt, an adventure to find something that fit both my body and my style requirements. That challenge became increasingly futile, and therefore unpleasant, when I left New York City for Maine and my options were severely limited. And when age and personal issues caused my size to grow.  Too many uncomfortable sessions in poorly lit dressing rooms, trying to fit into garments that did not reflect what I thought of myself, led to a real aversion to shopping. The only regular shopping I do these days is for groceries. When I developed Tennis Elbow from knitting under stress (not from the knitting, but from life) and had to turn my compulsion to make to another practice, I pulled out my sewing machine. With no grand plans, I began to create garments that fit, and felt right to who I think I am. With each successful garment I was emboldened, and steadily built up the closet so no further trips to the store were necessary. It was fun to make myself specific garments, and avoid those florescent dressing rooms simultaneously. Currently I am working to refine my makes to truly fill needs, and make garments that are missing in my closet, rather than following the handmade pack. (not that there is anything wrong with that....) My color palette has become more subdued, and there are fewer prints in my closet. This is how I got to 90% handmade. The 10% is shoes, undergarments, and tights. I am still wearing a RTW coat I bought four years ago because it was well-made, I love it, it serves it's purpose, and I have no need to replace it. But otherwise what goes on my body has already made a trip through my hands. I have zealous moments when I think I should go 100%, but then I relax and enjoy where I am. This isn't a race, there is nothing to prove, life is short and I don't want to miss out on it's sweetness because of a goal beyond my purview.

An Archer shirt, pattern by Jen Beeman of Grainline Studio, in chambray from Robert Kaufman.

An Archer shirt, pattern by Jen Beeman of Grainline Studio, in chambray from Robert Kaufman.

 
A Moss skirt, pattern by Jen Beeman of Grainline Studio, in Linen/cotton blend from....(?)

A Moss skirt, pattern by Jen Beeman of Grainline Studio, in Linen/cotton blend from....(?)

A Sailor top, pattern by Amber Corcoran of Fancy Tiger Crafts, in some precious Liberty that has worn so well that I need to remember...

A Sailor top, pattern by Amber Corcoran of Fancy Tiger Crafts, in some precious Liberty that has worn so well that I need to remember...

As I mentioned above I am compelled to make. I do not sit still well, however give me a knitting (or hand sewing) project and I can endure, nay enjoy, any downtime. There is also a part of my brain that likes to solve puzzles. I loved crossword puzzles in my teens and 20's, these days it is jigsaw puzzles. I have always been a bit of a fashion horse, spending a fair portion of my youth pouring over Vogue magazine. I like clothes. There, I said it. I feel they are an extension of our personality, and while they are just one small part, they speak for us before we even open our mouths. Sewing my own clothes satisfies many elements of my personality in very effective ways. I sew (and knit) to stay sane, if we are being honest.  It keeps me in balance, solving puzzles, following instructions, customizing as I see fit. This is not to say that all my sewing is sunshine and roses and rainbows and unicorns....  I have my fair share of teeth gnashing, head scratching, exasperation, and yes, even tears. But each mistake leads to more understanding, more knowledge, more experience to work from. Overall, my sewing (and knitting) time is precious and feeds my soul. My friend Lauren Taylor -LLadybird- says that sewing is a form of entertainment for her. I have to agree.  The same way that some parents resort to plopping their kids down in front of a screen, I am self-contained and happily occupied by a sewing project.

 
A Victoria jacket, pattern by By Hand London, in heavy-weight chambray from my stash.

A Victoria jacket, pattern by By Hand London, in heavy-weight chambray from my stash.

A Coco dress, pattern by Tilly and the Buttons, in heavy-weight cotton jersey bought at Mood Fabrics last Fall.

A Coco dress, pattern by Tilly and the Buttons, in heavy-weight cotton jersey bought at Mood Fabrics last Fall.

 
 
An Inari Tee dress, pattern by Named, in some Japanese cotton/linen blend purchased years ago online.

An Inari Tee dress, pattern by Named, in some Japanese cotton/linen blend purchased years ago online.

Recently it has also come to my attention that sewing my wardrobe is a political act. This again was not my initial intention, but a lovely byproduct. There is the general idea that controlling my image, how I look to the greater world through the clothing I wear, is political, in that I control my image rather than being reliant on the profit motive of corporate, or even 7th Ave, trend. But then there is the recent understanding of the abuse Fast Fashion perpetrates on the environment, the human beings who work in the industry, and our economy.  Suddenly my choice to make my own clothing is a rebuke to an industry's bad practices. It is a tiny element of control is a rapidly changing landscape. I was already aware of the Slow Food movement through the culinary world. My husband and I were involved in the local Slow Food chapter in Portland for a number of years, and through our business Rabelais, have made many connections to farmers and other small food producers. The movement behind Slow is well established and recognized in food, it only made sense that the construct would be applied to other industries, and with what's been happening in the world of fashion in the past couple of decades, it was a natural fit. In general I am in favor of smaller businesses with closer contact to their suppliers and workers. This applies to both food and fashion to my mind. This gives my desire to be 'well dressed' and sane a political framework. One that I am happy to share with any who inquires. I love to urge others to watch The True Cost, read Elizabeth Cline, and give some thought to where their wardrobe comes from.  I was already doing it with food.

 

 
 

This topic swirls around the internet like an early Spring snowstorm. Some days it is hot and heavy, at other moments we are all distracted by pretty new fabric or a cool new sewing pattern. I follow such thoughtful makers as Karen Templer of Fringe Association, Katrina Rodabaugh, Jennifer Beeman of Grainline Studio, Heather Lewenza of Closet Case Patterns, Christine Haynes, and Felicia Semple of The Craft Sessions. They talk about these issues in my language. They are considered, creative, thoughtful makers and I check in with them regularly so as to know that the universe is generally headed in the right direction. (Cheetos-in-chief aside)

If you've met me in person, you know I smile a lot more than this.

If you've met me in person, you know I smile a lot more than this.

But shooting photos of myself, I need a reason to smile, and that's hard when you're alone....

But shooting photos of myself, I need a reason to smile, and that's hard when you're alone....

There you have the salient points on my handmade wardrobe. Why do I share this with you right now? Well, I am trying to live my life in a manner that allows all it's pieces to flow in some sort of coherent direction. The current political situation has most certainly thrown me for a loop. I am trying to make sense of a path I thought I understood. I closed down my Maker Space at the end of last year in order to focus my attention on issues that resonate with me, without worrying so much about a physical plant. The retreats on my schedule for 2017 have the theme of Slow to allow me to share these ideas with others. This is the stuff that I find stimulating, engaging, important, perhaps even a bit subversive, and that I want to share. Is Slow Fashion an issue that intrigues you? Do you make yourself clothing? Do you think you might like to do more of it? Are you having difficulty fitting it in to your life? Can I help? Do you want to take a first step?  Baby steps are a great way to start. I didn't begin by throwing out my entire closet and only wearing the three items I could make myself. Being aware, being open to the idea is a great place to start. As Arthur Ashe said, "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can." 

 
Cal teaching at A Gathering of Stitches last July.

Cal teaching at A Gathering of Stitches last July.

 
Some of the beautiful colors Jessica Lewis Stevens makes with natural dyestuffs.

Some of the beautiful colors Jessica Lewis Stevens makes with natural dyestuffs.

Katrina Rodabaugh's mending.

Katrina Rodabaugh's mending.

 
The path to the beach at Ferry Beach Park....

The path to the beach at Ferry Beach Park....

Our Slow Fashion retreat this July with Katrina Rodabaugh, Cal Patch, and Jessica Lewis Stevens will be a great place to dip your toe in the water.  Even if you are new to garment sewing, Cal will show you how to draft a very simple top that you can customize in any number of ways. There is no reason why you can't make your very own pattern, to fit your very own body, early in your sewing career. Cal is the person to help you learn that skill. Katrina is a generous font of information about all things mending, sustainable, thoughtful, regenerative. Just to sit and talk with this delightful human being for an afternoon is to have your mind expanded about how to live more lightly on this planet. Color is so important to our lives, and while it is all around us, how much do we miss by blasting past it. Jessica slows you down and directs your attention to the beautiful color we can all work with, derived from nature, without poisoning our surroundings.  This week on the beach is going to be so full of life, creativity, and inspiration, I just hum with the possibility. Will you join us?  Can I answer any questions about this experience that you may have? I would love to share this week with you......

On the mend...

 
My companion last week....

My companion last week....

What a difference being healthy can make....  A week in bed can really warp your world view.  March in Maine is a pretty hard time to begin with, grey and brown, cold, interminable.  And the one time of the year I come down with colds....  I had the good company of our terrier mutt Lark, but even she got bored with me. Look at that face. Doesn't she look annoyed? (actually she just doesn't love the camera....)

The aforementioned cold laid me pretty low for a week. I appear to have germinated it in Savannah while I was attending the annual Modern Quilt Guild extravaganza, QuiltCon. If you are unfamiliar with this event I encourage you to search the hashtag in whichever social media you traffic. Instagram will yield the most visuals, but even a simple Google search will open a colorful gift box of inspiration. I have attended for three years now and have greatly enjoyed each trip. I had great good plans to post here about the visuals I absorbed, to share some inspiration I felt deeply in my bones upon entering the convention hall. And perhaps I still will, but I got sucked under the tide of this beastly cold and lost a full ten days in a feverish stupor. As I resurface I find all sorts of posts and images circulating, and feel a bit behind the curve. Now that feeling may subside, and I may find myself entranced all over again by the amazing quilting I saw produced by this community, and need to share it. I reserve that right. That first Thursday morning in Savannah at the beginning of Quiltcon, just over two weeks ago, feels like an eternity ago. Probably because that damn cold felt like it took away one of my proverbial nine lives, and I lost some distinct time to my fevered fugue state. While I was laying there, sweating and trying hard not to cough up a lung, various thoughts occurred to me. Well, actually honestly I think they popped into my head when I was able to rouse myself to standing, and grind up the old brain gears again. That rousing coincided nicely with the opening of the registration for my 2017 retreats- Slow Stitching and Slow Fashion. 

 

 

Watching you lovely people sign up to join myself and Cal Patch, Katrina Rodabaugh, Jessica Lewis Stevens, Chawne Kimber, Heather Jones and Kim Eichler-Messmer explore the world of Slow textile pursuit was incredibly gratifying.  It was the silver lining in my grey storm clouds that truly kept me going for a couple of days. Thank you to everyone who has signed up, and to those who are still to come, I look forward to meeting you all this Summer.... At this writing there is still plenty of room to join us for Slow Fashion.  Slow Stitching is down to two remaining spots.

 

I cannot lie, the actions being perpetrated in our name by elected officials lately has been extremely discouraging to me. Being sick only magnified my isolation, and feelings of helplessness in the worst way. So when I started to see the response to my call to Slow Stitch activity flood in, well, it did my heart much good! That's right, it mended my wounded heart, and gave me the hope and faith to dig myself out of that cold....!

Laying there half lucid, I allowed myself to do some wallowing. I mean, that's what you do when you're sick right? You see the worst in situations, you feel powerless and lost and cut off, alone in your disabled state. Alone with Lark, but still alone.  So I had my own little pity party. What am I doing with my life? Where am I going, with these Slow Stitching ideas? What does this really mean to me, or to anyone else....?  Laying there in a forced Slow state, I had to physically live through these admonitions I share with people. I had to slow down, I had no choice, I couldn't do much but hydrate and sleep. I was Sloooooow....  Now I won't lie, I am not good at just being. I need a purpose, a direction, a plan, a vision, somewhere to go, damnit! This meant I had to fight my inner nature to just lay there, and heal. But you know, once I gave in to it, it became truly cathartic. I have begun to see on a very elemental level, how much I need this slowing down, and how good it is for me as a human being. A switch was flicked.

The Park blocks from Carolyn Friedlander, that are keeping me moving forward....

The Park blocks from Carolyn Friedlander, that are keeping me moving forward....

I do feel like I have been pretty much running non-stop for the past thirty years. And I'm tired.  It's not that I don't feel like I have anything to show for all that forward motion, but I do feel like there is something else that I would rather be doing right about now. I don't want to sound like a broken record with all the Slow, but I do want you to know that this is a journey I am embarking on, and I do not know the way, so I am feeling my way along. As is my wont, I will be sharing this with you, and I hope some take sustenance from my ramblings. Once I felt good enough to get out of bed I had some moments of anxiety about how to get started on this path, but then I pulled out some stitching, and it felt right. These Park blocks you see here? They brought me out of my funk. Just the simple act of stitching, using some needle turned applique to attach colorful shapes to Essex Linen squares, grounded me, reminded me of the things I consider important. Making. Using your hands, your skill, your experience, your enthusiasm to create something. Stopping and noticing what is going on right now, right under your nose, while you're thinking you should be 'doing' something..... It was instinctual to be doing, but the doing, the Making, was so quiet and considered, so simple and tactile, and analog, I was soothed. Just about anything is better when you're Making.....

 
 

I am creeping out of this ten-day cold, reaching for some clarity, some action, and a path out of illness... I am on the mend, so why not do some mending?

One of my Named patterns Inari Tee dresses needed some reinforcement at the split hem seams. I've had this roll of Twill tape forever, it is so handy, I don't know what I will do when it finally runs out. Two small pieces cut, edges pressed under, glue-sticked into place and then stitched down. My dress is whole again.....

 

When the weather finally warms up, which we all know it will, my dress will be back in rotation. This is probably my fourth Inari, this one made from some Khadi cloth I bought at AVFKW three years ago that I was nervous to cut into until I had just the right pattern.

How many pieces of fabric do we all have like that?  Why are we doing that to ourselves...?  What are we waiting for? The way I see it, if we are thoughtful, mindful, and slow about our projects, we will do all this beautiful cloth the honor it is due.  Dontcha think....?

More thoughts on Slow clothing are percolating. Stay tuned.

 
 

Hello....!

Very soon after moving my studio into the new space I made sure I was able to do some sewing, even if I was still surrounded by boxes...

Very soon after moving my studio into the new space I made sure I was able to do some sewing, even if I was still surrounded by boxes...

Well, that was a long pause.... Forgive me for being so absent this last while. Breaking down, divesting, and packing up the studio took all my bandwidth, and then some. Now firmly ensconced in my Biddeford studio, many (but not all) boxes unpacked, I am able to sit down and take stock of what has happened to A Gathering of Stitches. More pleasingly, I am able to see the path forward, and put plans in place to make a lovely future for Makers. More will come as I adjust to the political landscape and the chaos it is causing.

A Gathering of Stitches was my lovechild, and an expression of a very specific character trait I have come to recognize in myself. When I see a task that needs doing, an opportunity unrealized, a void, I step up.  I am not one to wait for someone else to tackle 'that' idea.  There is a quote from Goethe that resonates for me. "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."  I am all about the bold. But as my Father's Doctor says, ‘as we age....’, as I have matured, and come to recognize patterns in my actions, I see that some choices, some bold directions, may have been a bit misguided. Please do not hear defeat, or self-degradation in this statement.  This is more a recognition of my evergreen human ability to learn from my mistakes.  And perhaps in the future, use some of that understanding to color my boldness....

Taking down the sign at 54 Cove Street was the final act of disassembling that space. Bittersweet.....

Taking down the sign at 54 Cove Street was the final act of disassembling that space. Bittersweet.....

 

 

Four months ago, at the conclusion of the Slow Stitching retreat of 2016, I had a flash of insight that laid out a new path forward for AGOS.  I love those retreats. I know I’ve said this before (see my previous post), and the reason I conjure up those sentiments right now, is because much has changed in our landscape since August. It is hard for most of us to see our new political administration with anything less than anxiety, and often with sheer panic. I am quite scared, and shaken by this turn of events. Not because I didn’t see it coming, but because of the deep divide these results expose. I do not have a huge desire to politicize this forum, but I honestly see no way to keep those events from intruding on our collective Making.  Makers are by nature problem solvers, creative thinkers, forgers of new paths. There is no way to look at our current political landscape and not want to fix it, no matter how disenfranchised we may feel.

At the moment my studio is a chaotic mess, but it is my safe haven, and a place to work through my anxiety.....

At the moment my studio is a chaotic mess, but it is my safe haven, and a place to work through my anxiety.....

 

 

 

 

Perhaps we will all become much more prolific, channeling our fear and pain into our creative output.  I would certainly like to hope so. For some it may have the exact opposite effect, paralyzing them with dread and dire possibility. I have found that Making is the only thing right now that calms my agitated psyche. I have not yet figured out what form my activism will take. I have tried volunteer work, and at the moment it is only magnifying my anxiety and panic. I am hoping that that feeling will change over time. But right now, other than contributing what we can to both Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, and calling my MoC's regularly, my actions have to remain within my private sphere. That may sound passive, but for me at this moment, unfortunately it is what I can handle.  As Meryl Streep so eloquently said recently, quoting Carrie Fisher, ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art.’

 

 

This week when I realized that my activism needs to take a different form I blissfully stumbled upon a website that led me to all sorts of actions (some quiet, others not) that work with my introverted nature. I share these resources with you here, because I know some of you are probably feeling similarly. There are others out there who are much better at outspoken activism than I am, and I am truly grateful to them for their enthusiasm and boldness. I found most of the below links through Eleanor C. Whitney (Killerfemme) who is a fierce and creative soul, Maine born, Brooklyn based. Check out her website for a shot of hope and possibility, or at least some movement in that direction. Other websites that I foundthat speak to my need to be involved on my own terms are here:

How to Call Your Reps when You Have Social Anxiety

Flippable

The Delve Action Guide for Artists + Creatives

Indivisible

Wall of Us

5 Ways to be a Silent Trump Protestor

We’re His Problem Now Calling Sheet

I urge you to find some action within these options (or others that you have found on your own) and take them!  If you have others to share, please leave them in comments. Let us be bold in our forward thinking actions, and good to one another in these difficult times.

 

So that takes care of the political activism. But what about what you came here for, the Making? That too will be imbued with new meaning going forward. This is not a radical shift, by any means. If you have been following along with me here, you know that I believe that making your own clothing is inherently a political act. Taking control of how you clothe yourself is a rebuke to big business and social norms. Perhaps I have not spelled it out previously, but now it seems so much more pertinent. If you have not yet watched The True Cost, please take the time to do so. It is available to stream on Netflix. This post is already getting long, so I will save a list of resources for the future. I will begin to populate this site with resources. My intention in 2017 is to change this format to a blog. If you like what I have to say, you will get more of it. If not, I will still have all the necessary info about my retreats here. You remember that flash of insight after the Slow Stitching retreat? It had a lot to do with the future of AGOS no longer being tied to a physical location, hence the move out of the Portland studios. But it also had to do with a recognition of my interests, my leanings, my skills, and my temperament. Inspired by Karen Templar’s Herculean effort at provoking conversation and information around Slow Fashion with her month of prompts labeled #slowfashionoctober (search the hashtag!), I seek to create a static location to house some of these resources. I will compile as many businesses, brands, stories, and links around the mindful, responsible consumption of fashion in one place as I am able. This undertaking will be monumental and slow (appropriately) and I will welcome any input and discovery you, as the community this site will serve, are able to offer up. This is the political action I feel most suited to. To offer an alternative to the mainstream, big business, environmentally destructive practices of the ‘fashion’ industry (for lack of a better inclusive term) that encourages consumption simply for the act. That is my goal. Wherever possible I will encourage you to find an alternative to mass-produced clothing, either by making it yourself, or for those without those skills, to seek out responsible producers. This will be my little F-you to the business world that cares not for the ramifications and consequences of their actions. Small, and barely political, but still, to me, important.  In the same way that Slow Food (the movement from which Slow Fashion has borrowed a title) seeks to rescue, sustain, and celebrate heritage foods and foodways, I believe that Slow Fashion can help save the traditions and culture of a way of life that celebrates craft, sustainability, respect for the natural world, and expertise gained through history, technique, and the traditions of our ancestors.

My current preferred seat....

My current preferred seat....

 

This process, compiling all this information, will take time. Please do not expect a fully formed site to pop from my head.  You should start to see changes around the time the retreats are announced. And anyone who wants to share resources they value will be greatly appreciated. But right now I feel the need to state my goals, to explain my shift, and to offer up another way of looking at where we are as a community.  Last year I produced ten retreats, while running the studios in Portland. Oh my, that was thrilling, exciting, expansive….. and utterly exhausting. I loved all the people I met, all the experiences I had, and helped to create, and the making I was privileged to nurture. I saw so many beautiful things made under my nose. It was thoroughly inspiring, and set me on this path. I do believe that Making, using your two hands and skills that have been passed down, and along, through generations, is at once a creative soulful act, and a political one. Taking back how you look in clothes you have made, or how you and your loved ones live through quilts from your hands, is empowering, while being incredibly satisfying for the soul and the psyche. So much is better when we make. We have empathy for those around us, patience for ourselves and for others. We have the satisfaction, however labored it might be, of completing a task, and making a tangible and useful item. Bringing something fully formed into the world, from raw materials, with skills you have learned. How can that not be a good thing? 

 

 

Further to that end, in 2017 I will produce two retreats both with the theme of slowing ourselves down and focusing on gaining or expanding knowledge that feeds our souls. I will continue the Slow Stitching week, which focuses on celebrating the quilting arts and traditions. This year I will add a Slow Fashion event that will offer similar attention to the garment arts, to the AGOS line-up. I promise I am not trying to tease you with this announcement in this form.  The full explanation of these retreats is coming within the month. I fully intend to share with you all of the whys and wherefores, and all the pertinent details about teachers, scheduling, locations, and costs, soon. I am still nailing down some niggling details and want to be sure what you see is fully actionable when it becomes public. It is coming, please bear with me.  I can tell you that the Slow Stitching retreat will continue at the same location, Medomak Retreat Center, and in the same month, August. The Slow Fashion addition will take place in July, and at a new location on the beach in Southern Maine. I am holding such peace and joy, and hope, within these two retreats, I am eager to share them with you. Soon….. In the meantime, click through on some of those links above?  Call your MoC's, and keep Making, it will help keep us all sane.