I welcomed, and am still welcoming the New Year in with a good degree of space and quiet. We didn’t go out for New Years, and with this incredible arctic blast that’s even freezing us all down here in Louisiana I’m definitely staying inside. It’s very odd of me to feel this sense of pause. Usually during this time of year I am humming with all kinds of goals, and objectives, and I jump into the planning of the first 3 months of 2018.
It feels almost like I’m not ready for 2018. Usually planning, growing and optimizing is my favorite thing. I wonder if any of you feel this way too? And it seemed to me that the holiday season was especially busy this year and the launch of the Fair Fit Method during December really added to the bustle and excitement.
I am determined to gather up some focus this week, but in a gentle way. I hope this post is helpful to you, and that by sharing how I’m structuring my creative practice that you will gain a few tidbits to add to your new year of sewing and designing this year as well. I'm going to share with you some exercises that I'm using to help me identify areas of growth.
Did you catch the latest Star Wars? I saw it with my family over Christmas, and Yoda tells Luke Skywalker “Failure is the best teacher.” Now, this caught me off guard a little. Honestly, I don’t like to use failure in my vocabulary because I believe things are always in a state of process and when looking at projects, goals, and desires they manifest in periods of highs and lows. But to expand up the idea that Yoda is teaching in a lighter way, taking on something that is perceived as hard can also teach you so much about yourself. And garment construction is HARD.
I agree with Yoda, failure is a good teacher. Though I what I’m addressing in this article are not necessarily failures- they are just areas where I need some refinement and some restriction. Restriction is a weird word, it brings up visions of being tied up or stuck, however I think of restriction as stating boundaries and drawing lines. “I’ll never work with that material again,” is a helpful restriction because it states a clear boundary that will help you choose better next time.
Today instead of making lists of what I’m going to make, I’m considering what I learned and won’t do again. It’s important to acknowledge that I could not get here without appreciating that I needed to sew these garments- I learned from them, and I love what they have taught me. And by examining where I perceive challenges to exist is where I can build some of my own structures to learn and bring shifts in perspective and transform areas of my sewing practice.
2017 Challenge 1 - Fabric choices
In 2017, I really focused on sewing many different kinds of patterns. That was the major goal last year to build a fully realized self sewn wardrobe. I’m very proud that everyday I can and do wear a me made item and that I really have no need to buy clothing from a store. In fact, I don’t want to, because it would be denying myself the opportunity to explore a new pattern and I’m always looking for projects to add to the list. However now I have enough items for my lifestyle that really there isn’t a real reason to sew new clothing except for the opportunity to experiment with a style trend or optimize what I already have.
One area for optimization is to improve the fabric quality when selecting textiles for my projects. For the past few years, Paul and I have traveled to Chicago and Los Angeles to buy fabric at fabric outlets who can sell them at “jobber” discounts. A jobber is someone who can buy fabric remnants (sometimes these remnants are entire bolts or rolls) from what is left over from garment manufactures and sell this fabric at a highly discounted rate (usually $1 to $3 a yard). Or you can also get a “bulk price” and bid to get an even steeper discount if you buy the whole roll or multiple items.
I don’t regret this- to me buying fabric like this appeals to me because this fabric isn’t going anywhere, and I’ve also been in a process of sewing up patterns to find out what patterns work best for my body and the types of shapes and styles I will wear the most. I’ve made a lot of things I don’t like and don’t feel regret about the fabric used.
What I didn’t anticipate is the feasibility of the fabric. Some items I have sewn were really good teachers because if I don’t turn to them it’s usually due to something uncomfortable about the fabric. Louisiana is a very difficult climate- it is very hot most of the year. My textiles must have more breatheablity, and no that doesn’t just mean purchasing strictly cottons, linens or “natural materials.” I’ve learned that the weave of the cloth, and weight of it as well, plays a very important role and you can only learn what feels good when you wear the garment.
Some fabrics I’ve used have not held up well to the type of pattern that I selected for the project. I’m finding a lot of rayons that I sewed into more structured shirt dresses could not hold the definition of the design. Silks that I sewed into more complex garments though technically achieved, just didn’t look right when worn. And some of the knits that I chose had just too much poly in them to be comfortable. Not only was a heat issue, but they irritated my skin.
On a positive note, the only way I can get to this level of refinement is by sewing and then wearing a lot of me mades. If you were a designer, crafting and selling collections of clothing each season, you would learn a lot of the same things from the interactions that you have with boutiques and buyers.
To improve in this area, I will be doing more sourcing, and sewing a lot less. I’ll also not make new garments in new kinds of cloth- rather, it will be better to test fabrics to optimize on favorite patterns that I know are go to’s, which will eliminate the chances of sewing up a pattern in great fabric and then hating the final product due to fit or design issues.
Challenge 2. Changes in Proportion
This year, I found that proportions that I really enjoyed in 2016 were not relevant to me in 2017. I learned this by photographing my me mades for Me Made May or even for ways I made custom garments for myself for Fair Fit Method samples. Nothing like a photograph of yourself to really show you if you like an item or not, as it does force you to look at yourself in a more objective way than what a mirror can provide.
I know I’m biased because it’s my pattern, but having to make so many Fair Fit sample garments for the launch in November really helped me see how much my perceptions of what I like for myself has changed. The lines of the pattern create a framework of your body, and while examining photographs I really saw that there are certain proportions that I just am no longer interested in style wise. I like a higher waist right now. I also like fuller skirts and seem to be consistently choosing 50’s and 60’s silohouttes.
Examining your proportions is incredibly beneficial and is important to learn for yourself. In my years of sewing professionally and teaching, I find that people want to delegate this to another person. I was the person folks would ask if I thought something was “right” for them. I realized this is not a fun question to answer, because usually folks know the answer to this question. While that can be helpful to get you started, trusting your gut builds confidence.
To develop and solidify what I feel works for me, I wear my me mades and keep track of how I feel through the day. If I find I’m fussing with an outfit, or scrutinizing it, usually there is something that is just not quite right. If you really hone in and focus on that area - not from a self critical place, just an honest one, you will get the answer as to what you feel is or is not working all on by yourself which will build confidence and trust in your own opinions.
To really optimize in this area, I’m taking garments out of my closet that make me feel “off” or that I’m not consistently turning too. These garments are valuable teachers, and I could not get to refinement in this area without making and wearing these me mades. I’ll be careful to not repeat this proportion and to record and apply the lessons learned from these projects in order to have more wins next year when I’m sewing new patterns.
Challenge 3 Pattern Choices
Instagram is where I go to see what people are sewing and to be inspired by all the fantastic garments that can be made. It’s also where you see all of the new pattern releases. This has been so tricky for me- because even with all of my careful questioning and editing, I still am thrown from time to time by trendy new patterns that everyone is sewing up. Or the latest release from one of my favorite independent designers will send my sewing que into a tailspin. Another thing that happens to me is that I end up loving a pattern a student sewed up, and then want to sew it for myself!
I have three limitations to consider in this area of how much to sew and what gets sewn. One is that I work from home, and though I never work in pajamas, I don’t have a need for many outfit rotations. Another is that I live in a small space, and I have a small closet, and don’t like it when it’s stuffed or overflowing. And third, due to climate, my wardrobe is limited. There are so many items that I’d love to sew up, but know I’m just not going to have many opportunities to wear. Due to these 3 restrictions, upon reflection I can see that I’ve sewn up a lot of misses, things that I find I just don’t reach for on a regular basis.
Last year I was making lists of what was missing in my closet. This year is different, because I feel I have a full closet that needs some editing.
Instagram #makenines did inspire me to make a list of 9 personal projects and I’m going to stick to it. I'm still slowly considering my list, so I'm not ready to post it yet. Restricting your projects to the potential of just 9 really gives you an extra layer of filtering and helps evaluate how much I really want to make or wear the intended project. I believe this will help me optimize the lessons learned in Challenge 1 and 2, and I feel having the limitation of 9 projects will really force me to focus on what I just have to sew, rather than engaging at the level of curiosity.
It’s also going to help me to not repeat a pattern over and over again without applying some serious variation. I end up sewing the same dress 3 or 4 times if I’m in love with it, but I can see how that can really get you into a style rut. I made one dress 5 times! If there are only 30 days in a month, that means it’s a 16% of the time I’m wearing that same dress and same kind of look. I’d prefer to enjoy different styles and have more variation in my daily uniform this year.
Writing this article has helped me to sketch out some valuable editing, and that is helping me to feel a sense of momentum. Not like my frenzied 2017 momentum, but a slower type that comes from appreciating what has been accomplished but also seeing that I don’t have to repeat next year. I can approach new projects from a whole new level of refinement and that will improve my closet and overall sewing practice.