Butterick 1915 Fashions (and thoughts on trying to KonMari myself out of being a hoarder).

I’ve officially started cleaning out my sewing room / having a full blown not-quite-midlife decluttering crisis and ebay-ing some of my old collected treasures. It’s funny the way my compulsions come full circle given enough time. About five years ago, I was interested in minimalism and simple living and trying to clear out my possessions to have time and space for what mattered most to me. Then I got interested in sewing ephemera and collecting sewing machines, and somehow my sewing room / sanctuary space became overrun with treasures.

Some of this is Asperger’s related, or to put it in non-identity-label terms, my learning style. When I become interested in something, it becomes obsessive, and I learn by immersing myself completely in the subject. I have enjoyed the process immensely, and pattern catalogs and sewing manuals and correspondence courses appeal to so many of my interests – visual art, graphic design, antiques, cultural history, gender history, material culture, crafting – that collecting them has engaged me as little else has.

But now, the cycle of my interests is shifting back to simplicity, and with a new baby and a desire to really move into patternmaking as an action and not just a study, I find that owning all of these delicate historical things is not providing me the same pleasure that hunting and studying it initially did. We don’t have enough room for me to store these things anymore, really. The sheer volume of kids toys we’ve accumulated with one kiddo who shares my hoarder tendencies is unbelievable, so with two, there’s just not room for boxes of books.

And what I want has changed. I want a crafting room or studio space that I can share with my kids without the worry that they might accidentally get ink on some antique irreplaceable thing that I paid a huge amount of money for. (Not to mention life in tornado alley makes a girl a bit nervous about all those 19th century leaflets upstairs when the sirens go off and we all pile in the basement.) I’d rather use the money from selling them to buy fabrics and art materials to engage with. So I’m finding new homes for some of the treasures I’ve accumulated over the years.

I keep reading Marie Kondo and hoping it will stick. There’s a passage in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up that I keep coming back to:

When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure. To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.

Most of the things I’ve collected have served their purpose in my life, in that they’ve provided an education and a great deal of inspiration. I scan and reproduce some of my favorites as a history nerd / design passion project, so have the ability to return to the information they contain. So I think I’m ready to clear out the physical bulk and work toward having space and materials to put what they’ve taught me to use in making new designs, doing my own sketches, writing about what I’ve learned about fashion history.

So, if you are a collector of fashion ephemera, feel free to watch my ebay (here). I have so many things to clear out over the next few months. I’ll try to post about some of the things I send back out into the world as I go through the process, because some of the designs and information in them is really fantastic.

I put up a Butterick catalog from 1915 this weekend that has some fantastic illustrations and unique details in it that I figured I’d share here, just as fashion inspiration. I love the influence of the kimono on this era (and have been very into researching kimono inspired garments lately) that started with Poiret a few years earlier but can still be seen in the girdles and sashes and surplice necklines.

 

Some of these designs and silhouettes seem very dated but even the dated designs have details that could be incorporated to give personality to contemporary designs or simple garments. Others, though, if they were done in contemporary colors and fabrics and with a modern hairstyle, you’d never know they were hundred year old designs. The dress with a deep neckline, a sash and the midsection, and the ruffle detail low on the sleeve and skirt would be gorgeous in a light chiffon outer layer and a satin sash in the same color for subtlety or a bright contrasting one for drama, something like cream chiffon with a scarlet sash and maybe some scarlet ribbon detailing at the neckline.

Fashion magazines always appeal to my inner 15 year old art nerd, too. The way these illustrations are done is both pretty and illustrative in a way some eras aren’t. Personally, I like this better than some of the line drawing qualities of illustration in the 1920s and the harsher femininity sometimes illustrated in the 1930s. It’s interesting, too, because these illustrations seem to depict female faces as they would look with heavy cosmetic applications, though women would probably still have tried to keep their makeup applications looking very natural at this point in history, using maybe just a face powder, light rouge, eyebrow pencil, and a tonic on lashes.

The shift of silhouette from the heavily corseted, tiny waistline of the first decade of the 1900s is fascinating. From what I understand this was probably partly due to the popularity of Titanic era designs by Poiret, Fortuny, and others that were inspired by other cultures with a more natural silhouette, but also due to necessity as World War I changed everyone’s lives so dramatically from 1914 onward, changing the daily activities of women, causing material shortages such that designs had to use less fabric, and so many other changes.

The corsets and undergarments really deserve an in-depth post of their own, so more on that later.

Happy Sunday!

Adjusting to life with a newborn, and working on a new pattern.

I’m excited to say I finally had my baby girl, a little more than three weeks ago now. Requisite retelling of the birth (feel free to skip): I spent a lot of time worried about preeclampsia and platelet counts, but that ended up being for nothing as that wasn’t a problem, though labor ended up being awful for other reasons (infection after my water broke, low blood pressure, fever, crappy anatomy) and I ended up having a c-section after 24 hours of labor because my poor baby wasn’t tolerating it and after five hours of pushing and a room full of nurses cheerleading at your junk, well, a c-section starts sounding pretty good. Poor kiddo had some scary complications after the stressful birth and ended up in the NICU for about five days, and I couldn’t even touch her for about two days, so that was an emotional nightmare, but I’m happy to say everything resolved and we’re all home now and  healthy and happy(ish – let’s be real, I have some emotional wobbliness while pregnant / after birth that check a lot of antenatal/postpartum depression boxes, but luckily I am able to caretake and enjoy the moments with my kids despite it).  Sleep deprived, of course, but content. The whole experience was identity-jarring, which has left me with an even more intense minimalism/decluttering urge for convoluted psychological reasons better left explored over coffee with a sister or bff, but eh. Despite my aspirations and birth plans and idealism and well-intentioned attempt at unmedicated labor (HAAAAAHHAHAHA. NOPE), birth is intense and sometimes horrible and sort of existentially traumatizing, at least for me, but I seem to have bad luck in that department. She’s wonderful, and worth it all, and her brother, too, who has been amazing adapting to everything, too. I’m so blessed in that.

Funny, though, that most of the women I know told me that you’ll know labor is imminent when you get a burst of energy and want to clean the house. That sensation is utterly unknown to me. I did get zoned in on working on a pattern for about 12 hours straight, though, which I’m still grading and testing, but hope to release very soon. The world is full of good bra patterns, especially in the boom of interest over the last 3 or so years, but it makes me feel better to work on something I enjoy and I feel much less isolated when I engage with the world via a craft I care immensely about. It’s helping me to really systematize my understanding of stretch reductions, cup sizing, grading different bra parts, and using Illustrator, so that feels like an accomplishment. Once I’m satisfied with the nuts and bolts of this one, I have quite a few ideas for less common, more vintage inspired pattern styles in the future. It’s a simple demi style bralette with slightly angled seam lines and an angled center front band, which works well with the lines of rectangular torsos like mine to imply a little curvaceousness, worked well with the belly I had when pregnant, and allows for a front of bra lace longline detail:

More to come as that comes into shape. 🙂

love set you going like a fat gold watch

I’ve always loved Sylvia Plath, though I think she is a kind of Rorschach blotch that says more about the interpreter than the interpreter can reveal about who she really was. We are all such mysteries to one another, even to those most intimate to us. Biographers and scholars and angsty teen girls, 20-something poets, thirty something mothers who don’t find time or inspiration to write anymore amongst the dirty laundry and the floor needing vacuumed and the grocery lists and the car licensing due dates are all grateful someone gives their inner state such apt utterance. Her motherhood poems speak to me at this point in my life, while her father issues and black moods spoke to me in another. I think people mythologize her in unhealthy ways because of her suicide, and that bookend has made her legendary in a way that sadly eclipses her craftsmanship, not unlike Kurt Cobain and so many others.

If I remember correctly, she wrote Ariel by getting up at something like 4 a.m. on a daily basis, to have the luxury of being a mind separate from others, to work, to think, before the children she was raising without her husband awoke. It is hard to think freely in the proximity of other people, and sometimes we have to escape into ourselves, even from those we love more than our own selves.

But the dark hours of early morning are heavy, too, with the duty of parenthood. I think often of my father rising at 5 a.m., packing lunches, stoking the fire, as well as working out in the basement before his work day began. There’s a poem by Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays, that describes his own father doing the same:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Perhaps daughters are different, because while we may have never thanked my father explicitly, we knew the extent of his labors for all of us, and we loved him for it. His hands, too, were cracked with his labors, and calloused from years of them. We sometimes helped stack the wood that he split with a Zen-like cheer and a practiced, masterful efficiency he had developed over many years of swinging an axe. My father was an artisan, in his way, and a soft spoken, gentle man, and our home was warm, though I think sometimes of his quietness, his gaze into the horizon, and I wonder who he was to himself, what thoughts were his in his quiet mornings carved out to be alone with them.

Mornings are my own, for now, until the night wakings, the haze of 3 a.m. nursings begin, the blue hours of dawn and the contented murmurs of an infant become my life again. That is not a complaint. There is something deeply content about those moments, and quiet, and transcendent.

Is that quiet blissfulness merely oxytocin? Merely, as if the brain chemicals that code are experience are somehow less real for being chemical and determined by forces other than our inner monologue that thinks it is our true self? So much of the self changes in this pregnant state and the nursing, caretaking state later, in response to biology’s programming, chemical surges that seep into and color the narrative we tell ourselves about who we are and what matters, that it often unnerves me.  Another line from Plath’s Morning Song:

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
With my son, I felt almost alien to myself, life-long brooder transformed by my body’s responses to pregnancy into a contentment I hadn’t felt before, though with a vulnerability snaked through it that found me sobbing over news coverage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf that had begun over the three days while I was induced and in labor (and which they’d wisely hidden from me until after the birth), news stories about the ugliness and exploitation that come so readily to us from all over the world. I felt such joy at my son’s being and yet such fear and worry for a creature that must learn about suffering and death and I, helpless to lighten the burden of such knowledge, with no answers to give, despite all my own years of wrestling with questions about what it means to be alive, to love, to try to connect with anyone in this fragile, beautiful. painful world.
For a long time, that contentment inoculated me from much of my own sadness. All it took to keep me happy was enjoying the presence and infectious joys of my happy little infant, and then toddler, and on and on. He is no less a wonder and no less a joy to me, but as the years have progressed, I could feel that biological contentment drain gradually from me and the old clouds return, but in a strange way, it wasn’t a bad thing. I felt like my mind was my own familiar dark wood again, though my son will always be the sun filtering through the canopy of leaves, the birdsong, the sweetness within it. It is easier for me to believe in my own mind and its workings when it incorporates the shadow as well as the light. I feel less sharp, somehow, when my contentments dull me.
Along with nursing comes a kind of isolation, because you and your infant are on a timetable that doesn’t correspond to those around you, and there are times when you do choose to be alone with your baby to nurse. I’m of two minds about this, because I am a shy person and I don’t want to feel vulnerable and exposed to the scrutiny or bear the burden of the intricate symbolic politics of it all when I’m waiting to pick up my son from school, for example. While I fully support women who want to nurse publicly and not feel obligated to cover and I think it’s good for us as a society to accept and support that, there are some times I don’t want to, and I feel like that also makes a certain kind of unintentional gesture of acquiescence to cultural prudishness. I don’t want my breasts to be a political arena, and I don’t want to feel like my own awkwardness with my own public nudity makes me somehow less feminist.
On the other hand, there are some places where I am comfortable enough that I feel like it should be a non-issue, with family or friends, but it clearly is going to make others uncomfortable about what they or their children are seeing and so, whether it’s right or not, you find yourself ducking into side rooms for half hour chunks of time to spare the awkwardness of relatives at family BBQs and that kind of thing. When you’re in the early phases of caring for an infant, you two are alone at home most of the time, and the majority of your discourse with the world is cooing monosyllables and listening to yourself babble and babble, though the call and response of it all and the sing song of an infant is beautiful in its own right. You often miss adults, and belly laughter, and naughty jokes, and talk about the weather, so having to shut yourself away from it when you have the opportunity to participate in adult silliness is incredibly frustrating. When family refuses to even come inside your house because you are nursing in the living room and they’d rather just wait on the porch and yet you’re too damn stubborn to move or cover, yeah, that’s awkward and sort of rage-evoking. (There’s a whole speel I could get into about the weirdly personal nature of formula versus breast milk commentary from family, and the pressure and guilt I see some women put themselves through regarding output, but that’s a rant for another day.)
So here I am again, wrestling with myself and being gradually internally transitioned into and to change far more still into cow-heavy blissfulness. And I do have so many reasons to be happy. Our genetic tests all came back with good results and all seems to be well. The test revealed that we’re having a daughter, which is what I’d hoped and perhaps even intuited, and which will probably bring a pleasant balance to our home. Maybe fewer tentacles and explosions and a little bit more fairy tales and lace around here, though with my tomboy genes and our feelings that a child should choose for itself what it likes (rather than only providing traditional gender specific options), there might just be more engines and dinosaurs and toy cars to fall over, and that’s okay, too. We heard her heartbeat for the first time yesterday, and our son was with us, too, smiling and burying his face into his dad’s neck, overwhelmed a bit with it all, but happy. Same here, really. Overthinking and conflicted and broody about it all, but in my way, happy.

Belated 2017 Roundup / Obligatory Rambles About Lifegoals and Resolve

2017 was … intense, macrocosmically and microcosmically. But it’s been ever upward and onward, and rounding up the things I created over the last year really makes me feel pretty great about how far my lingerie making and sewing skills have progressed. I also feel a sense of accomplishment about trying fabric design!

So here’s a sampling of my sewn work over the last year, all self-drafted:

 

And here are some of the fabric designs I printed using Spoonflower (shameless self promotion, my shop is here):

It’s somehow cheering to see it all in one place. It’s easy to think of all I’d hoped to accomplish and did not; it’s harder to realize how far I’ve actually come.

My biggest goal for 2018 are to finally open up an etsy shop for handmade lingerie, and I’m moving toward being able to do that probably within the next week or two. Lots of samples sewn and processes mastered and materials hoarded toward that end.  Still to do: photos to take, copy to write, listings to create. I’d like to offer patterns and design more fabrics to use in my collections as well. It may seem unrelated, but for me this is inextricably connected to my more personal urge to declutter and simplify and work towards realizing the more minimalist approach to living I’ve always wanted. To me, clearing the physical clutter is tied to clearing the psychological hesitation to focus on what I really want to be doing with my time.  I went around my house taking pictures to have a “before” state to see what progress I can make and have a nice list of TED talks to work through for inspiration. But mostly I hope to be able to declutter enough to actually sew in my sewing room instead of just piling it full of sewing-related junk.

Here’s hoping. 🙂

Hoarding and Gloom. Or: I Need Some Chocolate, Stat.

Hoarding things makes me feel weird. Like existentially sad pondering my own mortality weird. I have all these great collections that are scribbled full of women’s names and these mother sized and daughter sized patterns that have scribbled notes about cancer fundraisers on the envelopes. I have things that I know someone tucked away because she deemed them worth keeping for the duration of her life, and then were passed on. It’s the same kind of discomfort that keeps me away from estate sales. To me that’s the saddest thought–of someone without family members willing to take her treasures and think of her now and then while enjoying them. Humans are these strange attention machines, meaning-making creatures filtering that take in all this influence and cultural symbolism that makes an individual taste and personality. Then that aesthetic (along with that individual’s neuroses and instinct) becomes this drive that curates and assemble these possessions, especially in the industrialized, advertising soaked West where we affirm these ideas about ourselves and our aspirations by purchasing. They become a kind of expression in themselves of the curatorial eye that gathered them. Seeing them dissipated and hawked on ebay by people who don’t know a thing about them is just…sad to me. I hope someday that my hoarded things aren’t shuffled through by strangers hoping to make a profit. I have a big family. I hope some distant cousin will get use out of my books and sewing machines, that maybe my kiddo will hang on to the handcrank I hope he’ll remember fondly one day being allowed to “sew with mommy” on.

My interest in home economics and domestic arts is fraught with sentiment, I guess. There’s a scene in True Blood after Sookie’s grandma dies where she’s sort of numb and disassociated from her grief until someone tries to eat the leftover pie in the fridge that her Gran had made. She screams at her to put it down, and later, almost ritualistically, she sits at the table alone, sobbing and finishing every last bite of the pecan pie. That scene was the most powerful for me in the whole gloriously costumed, pretty people laden Southern goth extravaganza that was True Blood. But then, I’m the kind of girl who still keeps a cigar box full of useless dried up pens that my dad used to write with. His handwriting was almost calligraphic, and he sat down to write like some people sit down to a tea ceremony; but he was just like that. Chopping wood, sharpening knives, too. Somewhere I have a bag of his old clothes that I couldn’t bear to throw away. I may be 80 before I ever end up making a quilt out of it, but I hope one day I do, and that someone I love enjoys it long after me, too.

There must be some kind of gene that sentimental hoarders share, because this doesn’t seem an odd sentiment among crafters. I wonder if there is some neurological idiosyncracy there that we share. I have this pipe dream of going all minimalist and paring my life down but the minute I start to think about cleaning out something I can conjure up all these memories of associated things and can’t discard it. And yet I don’t keep scrapbooks; why would I need to, when shuffling through a box and its smells and textures evoke more than a picture ever would.

tl;dr: Sorry, boyfriend, you trip over sewing machines when you go to do the laundry bc your girlfriend is a hopeless sentimentalist. The end.