November 28, 2012

Overdressed, the book, not me

Yeah, I jumped on the bandwagon and read this book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline (thanks public library!). While the book wasn't especially surprising it was worth the read and has provided great discussions on numerous blogs.

I should point out that I'm not new to the anti-fast fashion movement. While I don't often thrift (I find giant thrift stores overwhelming) I do make nearly all my own clothes these day (not exactly intentionally, I know there are bloggers out there who have taken no-shopping pledges, I just really like making my clothes). I've also boycotted Forever 21 a few years ago after I dug into their record of poor employee treatment, sweatshop conditions, blatantly copying other designers' work and a miriad of "un-Christian-like" ethical behaviors.

I do occasionally shop at Gap and Target, though.

So while I can't completely relate with the girls Cline interviews who spend reckless amounts of cash for pounds of cheap Zara and H&M finds and then video blog about it I do understand the appeal.

Never in our history have we owned as much clothes as we do now nor has clothing ever been so inexpensive. Because of that we are the first or second generation where the majority of women don't know how to sew and if we do sew it is because we are "hobbyists."

What I liked about Over-Dressed was that Cline doesn't put the blame on one faction of the fashion system over another. It's a cycle between consumers, the industry and the factories where all these cheap duds are produced.

We've been conditioned to believe that clothes need not to be "good quality" but "good enough" for the price. We are disconnected from fiber types, construction methods and terms, and what a nice garment even looks like. Have you ever owned a RTW with french seams? Bound seams? How are we even supposed to know if we're being duped?

Then producers keep pumping out new product week after week to get people to return the stores. Trends come and go with the wind which gives us a lot of variety (although Cline would probably say it's superficial variety) it doesn't last long. (I don't care if peplums are out next spring, you can pry my peplum tops out of my cold dead fingers!!!)

A bunch of other bloggers have commented about the book, it's meaning, the cause of fast fashion and what it says about us. Deepika notes that this book isn't about the art of fashion but consumerism. The Slapdash Sewist takes it a step further - it's not about fashion but our need for shopping as a pastime in itself. We don't really care about what we're buying. Shopping is just something we do.
Leah makes the point that women in the West no longer do this traditional task of sewing which has allowed us to advance our own careers yet we just delegate the work to poor women in developing countries. This leaves us in a privileged position to sew because we want to not because we have to.

It is about all of these things, fashion, status, the ability to participate in a system that was only reserved for the rich. An H&M just opened last week in my town and I admit I was a little tempted to just go in and check it out. The author mentions the pleasure that young women get by going into stores like these were every single item is within our price range, where as going to Nordstrom or Anthro we'd only be able to go to the sale section or be limited to buying just one item. There's something nice about feeling included in the shopping experience. In that case it's more about buying lots of clothes because we can, not necessarily because we need or even want the items.

I expected this book to be preaching to the choir and it is, but I was surprised to learn about pieces of this system that I only vaguely understood. I knew that a lot of donated clothes were sold in bulk to Africa but I didn't know how much, or how much we really donate to charity, or how much is turned into carpet padding (makes me a little more uneasy about donating my handmade clothes I toiled on but weren't successes).

I also knew about how China has thousands of giant factories filled with migrant workers who live in dorms and who now want a piece of their own exports for themselves. What I didn't know was the full implication on Chinese society. (I could write a whole post on China's changing economy but I won't, the book gives you a little taste).

But the result of combining bad quality garments, consumers' unrealistic expectations of the clothing prices, factory conditions, lackluster thrifting, giant conglomerations makes me feel like I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't.

Cline discusses how cheap fashion has caused luxury prices to rise in the last decade leaving no middle of the road price/quality option for clothes out there for consumers. I like to compare it to the recent wealth gap in the United States where 1% of the population has an exorbitant amount of money while 99% make zilch in comparison. The 1% can afford the price gouged luxury designers while the rest are relegated to a swarm of polyester crap. There are very little middle class garments available even if you wanted to buy them.

You could still buy from the Gap or Macy's or wherever after checking their factory ethics declarations but how can you trust them? Cline visits several factories in the US, China, Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic. In each case the conditions vary drastically. She mentions that the majority of Chinese factories subcontract to other factories, often without the companies knowing about it. Many of these factories are illegal. Cline also states that Gap alone uses over a thousand factories in forty different countries. It is impossible to know which factory produced which garment and which factory is better than another.

On the other hand you could buy vintage or from thrift stores but as we all know vintage buyers scour Goodwill and snatch up all the 60s goodies before you ever get the chance and because there's such a limited supply the price rises. If you can't afford a modern $200 dress how can you afford a 50 year old $200 dress?

And what is left at the thrift store is H&M and Old Navy cast offs for marginally less than you could buy them new.

So that leaves us with drastically altering thrift finds which some people are very good at (I don't have a knack for envisioning what an oversized mumu could be so count me out) or sewing our own garments from scratch.

This is a great solution except for a couple issues: 1) odds are the majority of our fabric probably comes from China or Asia (unless we're all buying Italian wools all the time, I know I'm not) and also 2) If we, the socially conscious, abandon the fashion system all together, what does that leave? People who will continue to buy from Forever 21 looooooooong after they have passed their 21st birthdays.

It's similar to one of the reasons why I stopped being vegetarian. I was not one who thought we should never eat animals. I was more concerned for the well being of those animals and how it would affect me, the person eating them. Back when I was in highschool, prior to the huge organic/all natural/no anti-biotics movement, I lived in a smaller town that hadn't seen a proper farmers market since WWII. I had no way of knowing what was in my meat, where it came from, or how the animal was treated (kind of like factory workers). At restaurants I was even more clueless. My best bet was to avoid eating meat completely.

But if I abstain from meat like some sewers abstain from all RTW clothing how can I be an advocate for change? If people like me stopped eating meat the remaining carnivores wouldn't care about artificially plumped pigs or chickens living in such confined quarters that their beaks are clipped so they don't peck each other to death. And if no one cared, how would it change? Now I eat meat again but I buy specifically organic or brands that are local. In restaurants I only eat meat dishes if I know where the meat is sourced (which is rather easy in Austin). This way the meat I want to eat continues to be more available.

The same should go for us. If we want to see more textile jobs in the US or more boutiques carrying organic cotton dresses or designers who inspire us we have to support them. Sure, right now the US may be like my hometown, blissfully unaware of their expanding waistlines like their overflowing closets, but if we buy at least one or two pieces from indie designers we love then that market will grow and the US might resemble Austin a little bit more. ;)

A lot of us do make a majority of our wardrobes but even I still buy RTW jeans and the occasional coat or camisole. If you're a frosting sewer you can buy one or two pieces of cake from a great local designer that you will wear for years and supplement those basics with homemade fancy floral frosting sprinkle dresses. If you've ever sewn one of Grainline Studio's patterns imagine how well fitting one of her Hound pieces would be?

Home sewing is only one solution to the fast fashion problem but it can't completely solve it.

In the end I'm not that worried about the future of fashion and consumerism, with China growing and the West getting more eco-conscious I think fast fashion is about to hit critical mass. It's like with stars - the Red Giants burn themselves out faster than the smaller stars.

November 25, 2012

Un-Selfish Sewing, McCall's 6044

McCall's 6044 Men's Shirt

Guess who finally took project pictures? This gal! And guess who insisted the pictures be taken in front of our car? That dude. He's very proud, obviously.

This is the first thing I've ever sewn for my boyfriend, Justin, other than reluctantly hemming pants (just because I can sew doesn't mean I will sew!).

McCall's 6044 Men's Shirt

The Goal: I wanted to make my boyfriend a shirt that fits because he's so oddly shaped. Also, because we are from Austin, and like all other men from Austin, my boyfriend is in a band so, naturally, he needs a pearl snap shirt. (Seriously, go to a concert in this town and you will know this to be true.)

McCall's 6044 Men's Shirt

The Pattern: Susan was kind enough to let me borrow this pattern, McCall's 6044. I made a size L with some fit adjustments. I did a combo of a few versions.

(OMG, so, while image searching this pattern for the envelop pic I realized I made quite nearly the exact same shirt as Suzanne did. Whoa. Our men even look a wee-bit the same. Erie.)

McCall's 6044 Men's Shirt

The Fabric: Chambray from The Common Thread here in Austin. Pearl snaps from Snap Source.

The Changes: Justin aparently has a giant neck. I remember when he was a groomsman in a friend's wedding and he had to rent a tux. The shirt he got was sized by neck size so while he could tie a tie the rest of the shirt was gigantic! He looked like a deflated balloon. Obviously I had to make neck adjustments to this pattern. It fit well in the shoulders and upper chest but I had to widen the shirt in the front. He also told me that he wishes the sleeves were a little shorter but I think I'm too lazy to go back and fix it. I'll do that next time. ;)

McCall's 6044 Men's Shirt

I topstitched everything and mock-flat felled all the side and shoulder seams.

McCall's 6044 Men's Shirt

The Results: Overall I like this shirt for a first try. Next time I'll try to make it more fitted in the back, I'll shorten the sleeves a half inch or so for his taste, and I might widen the neck by another 1/2" just to give him slightly more neck ease. Also, I think the sleeve cap on this pattern has way too much ease in the front to the point where in the back it stretches and in the front it rumples up and looks like gathers if I don't iron the heck out of it, and yes, I double checked the pattern piece, too. What's up with me and analyzing sleeve caps lately?

McCall's 6044 Men's Shirt
Justin doesn't show up on the blog all that much but I swear he exists, even if he doesn't like to smile in pictures. His only photo facial expressions are faux smile, Blue Steel, or dead-face. Guess we're going for dead-face in this post. Hey, at least the car looks good. ;)

November 21, 2012

Christmas Wreath and Giving Thanks

Gold Christmas Wreath

I have been sewing this past couple weeks but it's always those elusive pictures that give me trouble, especially since the sky gets darker earlier - less time for natural light photography. In the mean time I'm posting a project of a different kind and taking a moment to give thanks. For those of you outside of the US you may not know but this Thursday is our big national holiday, Thanksgiving. It's a time when we gorge ourselves on turkey and pumpkin pie and watch parades and football on TV. But really we're supposed to spend time with friends and family and think about everything we are grateful for.

So this is my sewing/blogging/creative related thank yous. I'm grateful for all of you! Thanks to the people I've met in real life and have become great friends, those who I know only from blogs and email. Thank you to everyone who reads the blog (and whose blogs I read). Whether or not you comment I still appreciate your presence (I know it's hard to keep up with so many blogs and comment on each). Thanks to all those who have bought/used my patterns. Thanks to those who share them. Thanks to those who design their own patterns and alterations. You inspire me!

Thanks for allowing me to waste hours at a time catching up on reading blog posts. Thanks for always giving me more cool techniques or details to apply to my next project. Thanks for making me want to knit or try something hard like tailoring or sewing pants. Thanks for keeping my sewing-to-do-list longer than the United States Tax Code. Thanks for making me swoon over the most beautiful printed dresses as well as the otherwise plain, but exceptionally well constructed black pants. Thanks for giving me Pinterest overload. Thanks for making me smile when I see your happy faces in pictures of your newest creation. It all makes me feel very connected to this community in a way I cannot fully explain. Thanks for challenging and supporting me.

Gold Christmas Wreath

Ok, enough sappy stuff. Here's a wreath I made while celebrating and early Thanksgiving with my boyfriend's fam. When it comes to holidays I'm surprisingly traditional. I like classic colors and motifs. Unfortunately my orange door doesn't lend itself well to Christmas green and red so I made a gold themed wreath.

Gold Christmas Wreath

Here's my supplies:
  • One grapevine wreath (they're the best for sticking picks into).
  • Two bunches of sparkly balls attached to stems. I cut each individual stem off and wrapped it around the wreath. I probably got about 16 individual stems.
  • A package of about 20 wooden sticks, covered in glitter and curled on the end.
  • One bunch of plastic-y, glitter-y leaves that I cut apart into individual stems.
  • Four glitter pine cones on picks.
  • Two glitter birds on picks
  • A package of gold plastic ball ornaments (don't use glass, that's a mess waiting to happen!). I used five of each style.
  • Gold wire ribbon for the big bow.
  • Hot glue gun to keep the ball ornaments in place.
I bought everything at Hobby Lobby except for the leaves, bird and pine cone picks which I got for cheap at Joann. I think it's festive for the winter holidays but doesn't clash with the orange.

Gold Christmas Wreath

One good thing about making a new wreath - I finally got off my lazy bum and cleaned my door - it was covered in spiderwebs, dirt, leaves and dead bugs, ew.

Ok, I'm off for the next couple days to spend time with my family for Thanksgiving - funny story, last year at Thanksgiving I was jumping on a trampoline with my little cousins (about 5 of them under the age of 12) and my jeans ripped! Like, an un-fixable crotch rip. I'm not surprised, they were old and most jeans get worn out in that spot. The bad part was I hadn't brought any other pants. I spend the rest of the day in pajama pants. Yeah - no trampoline for me this year...

November 11, 2012

A Highly Modified Renfrew

Highly Modified Renfrew

The Goal: After making my last Sewaholic Renfrew I had some concerns. It's not that I didn't like the shirt or the design or anything but I felt the fit could be better. See, I'm not used to wearing close fitting knits much anymore. As you can see from some past knit tops I've made, I like 'em loose and flowy. This is great for fit because there isn't much you need to pay attention to but the Renfrew is different.

Here's a little diagram illustrating changes I wanted to make:

- First, it's a little long for my taste. That doesn't mean it'll be too long on others, I just like my shirts to sit higher and with the band it makes all this extra fabric bunch up at my middle.
- Second, I think I might need a minor FBA? I know the easy way would be to just go up a size in the top but I think it fits well in the shoulders.
- Also, I think the sleeve cap top point needs to be moved forward ever so slightly.
- Lastly, I need a sway back adjustment like crazy!

Highly Modified Renfrew

The Pattern: Sewaholic Renfrew. Like last time I cut a 6 at the bust and a 4 at the waist but this time I made changes from the base pattern.

Highly Modified Renfrew

The Fabric: My friend Susan has been sewing up a few Renfrews of her own. She so kindly donated me the rest of this fabric after she made her own version (twinsies!!). It's a cotton knit possibly from Girl Charlee.

Highly Modified Renfrew

The Changes: So here's what I did. I made several copies of the front and back pieces, did a sway back adjustment ala this tutorial, made a small (like 1/2" wide increase per side) FBA, and scooted the sleeve cap point over.

Highly Modified Renfrew

I've never done an FBA before on a garment for myself. I've done them in theory, like drawing how to do one. I get the concept but I've never put in in practice. I realize I could have gotten away without one by cutting a larger size but I thought this would be a fun opportunity to try it out and see the results first hand. I think it helped the fit a lot!

For the bottom I thought I could either cut the bottom of the shirt shorter and attach the band or just be lazy and hem the shirt sans-band and it would already be the length I wanted. Laziness won out.

Highly Modified Renfrew

This time I top stitched the neckline and sleeve bands with a twin needle.

Highly Modified Renfrew

The Results: As you can see it's much better. Not that the original shirt was that bad to begin with but you can tell that there's no more pulling around the bust, the back isn't perfect but it is much improved, and it's a better length for me. Success! I'm now going to use these new and improved pieces if I decide to do this pattern again. Sometimes it's worth going back and taking the time to do it right, ya know?

November 7, 2012

Colette Macaron 2.0

Colette Macaron with Fabricker Fabrics

Dear Colette, you've been telling me for years to trace my patterns rather than cutting out my size, and I, as a lazy sewer, ignored you. Now I know I should have heeded your advice. I'm working on cutting several patterns right now, many that I have already used, and I realize I've changed sizes so much that I've had to re-cut or re-trace nearly all these patterns. Ooops. I've learned my lesson. From now on I'm a tracer, not a cutter.
Thanks, Dixie

Colette Macaron with Fabricker Fabrics

The Goal: Earlier this year I analyzed my wardrobe and found that one of my "needs" was "church appropriate" dresses. Garments that I rarely wear but when an event comes up like a wedding you really need something nice.

Colette Macaron with Fabricker Fabrics

These dresses used to be my Anouk dress and my Macaron from last October. One was summery, the other winter. Perfect! I could check that one off the "need" list.

But now both of them don't fit. They're too big. And not in a way that I could easily fix by sewing up the sides. I am so sad about this! I LOVED both of these dresses! They were my favorites and I wore them regularly even when I wasn't going to a wedding.

Colette Macaron with Fabricker Fabrics

So two weekends ago when I had to go to a wedding I was at a loss. I didn't have enough time to make a new dress and I didn't have any other "nice" dresses that would work for a night-time, chilly, fall wedding. I gave in and bought a sweater dress at Target!! Shocking! I know, I'm so ashamed!

I figured I should stop moping about my loss of my former Macaron and make another. And here she is!

Colette Macaron with Fabricker Fabrics

The Pattern: Colette's Macaron, and probably my fave Colette pattern of them all. I love the sweetheart neckline and the cute sleeve detail and the nifty pocket placement!

Colette Macaron with Fabricker Fabrics

The Fabric: I made this dress on a whim so it was good that I had this stuff in my stash. The top is leftover Swiss Dot from this Burda Blouse and the floral is a pretty cotton lawn (I kind of echoed the style of my original Macaron). Both fabrics are from Fabricker in Austin but you can also buy the fabrics online!

Colette Macaron with Fabricker Fabrics

The Changes: Not much. The pattern calls for a facing for the neckline but I lined the whole yoke instead. I used plain white batiste for the yoke and sleeve lining.

Colette Macaron with Fabricker Fabrics

The Results: I made a size 10 the last time I made this pattern and it was a little bit too big. This time I made a 2 and it's maybe a wee bit too small. Next time I'll do a four. Hopefully that'll be the Goldilocks zone. But it's still very wearable and I think it's super cute! Success!

Colette Macaron with Fabricker Fabrics