The House of Tatterdemalion


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In the news. . .

November 17th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

First off, I’d like to draw your attention to an article in Thursday’s (November 15, 2007) WSJ, entitled Inside a Salon That Serves the Logo-Phobic. As usual, it has been written by Christina Binkley, and as you might have guessed I am highly amused by the traditional couture houses putting themselves out of business while small places like this cater to the people who really are interested in couture.

The article opens by profiling Ms. Markbreiter, who says that “To me, logos speak more of mass merchandising.” When she recently bought an Oscar de la Renta handbag, she removed the logo tag! Horrors! It’s a full-fledged back-lash against pushing of “couture” on the mass market. As the article says, These women want exquisitely made but subtle clothing and accessories that don’t shout “fashion.” What?! People who are interested in quality clothes that don’t want to be gaudy trend-followers and name droppers?! Perish the thought!

It seem so amusing to me because the description of this boutique sounds nearly identical to descriptions I have heard of the couture world in its “glory years”. Intent on chasing larger audiences and making statements and being artistic, the couture world largely alienated its original clientel. So those costumers who are actually interested in some of the properties of what I call “the original couture”—namely, things like quality of workmanship and materials, longevity of design and fabric, personalization in fit, and custom design for individuals—are going elsewhere with their business.

Ms. Powell scours Paris, London and New York for designers–mainly independent of the big luxury chains–whose attention to detail, fine fabrics and workmanship set them apart, in her opinion. She then demands that they work with her by altering their designs or supplying extra fabric for alterations.

Ms. Powell is no stranger to the couture world.

Ms. Powell, a Sweedish woman who speaks seven languages, is a veteran of the Paris-London-New York fashion scene. As a student in Paris, she was hand-plucked by Hubert de Givenchy to work in his atelier, and she later ran the Givenchy franchise on Madison Avenue for 13 years, until Mr. Givenchy retired.

Not only do Ms. Powell and her assistant fit everything to the individual costumer, they are not at all adverse to not sticking with the original designers sacred inspiration—two examples given were taking apart a dress and turning it into a camisole and skirt, and turning a coat into a dress. In some ways, it almost sounds like a second-hand atelier—not that the clothes have been previously worn, but that instead of starting with yardage, they start with garments.

This type of costumer shuns brand names and superfluous amounts of clothing (which is usually a result of trend-following), but instead seeks quality and, perhaps even more rare in today’s clothing world, dignity.


In other news, I recently read the latest HotPatterns newsletter. Although this company produces patterns of which I am most definitely not the target audience (can anyone say “trendy”?), I was interested in seeing how this small, independent pattern company would grow. Or not, depending on the way things went. People did seem to be quite taken by the designs, which were originally quite different than what was offered elsewhere. And they were certainly taken in with the advertising, the whole attitude that the pattern company was selling.

Personally, however, I have been less and less impressed, as each new collection only seems like a tiny variation on the one before it, and often times what designs are not stylistic repeats are very, very simple and basic pieces. If you’re going to buy from HotPatterns, you had better like straight skirts, neck-ties and gathers. And the words “super-stylish,” “totally gorgeous,” “funky,” “fabulous,” and the like, because you will be getting a lot of them.

However, I continue to keep half an eye on HotPatterns, and now I am also (thanks to the newsletter brining it to my attention) keeping half an eye on a new eMagazine, SEWN. Freshly, newly, just barely launched, there isn’t really much on the site yet (which is why one needs to watch to see what this will develop into). This is from their about page:

Why should knitters and quilters have all the fun? Garment sewists demand a magazine of our own. We want something less crunchy than the DIY stuff on the Web, but we don’t want Art to Wear either. We want designer inspiration, designer resources, and ideas for using patterns that are available commercially. We want great fabric even if we live in the middle of nowhere. We love vintage but still need to get dressed to go to work in the real world, not some costume drama. We want to learn great techniques without the schoolmarm tone. If we can get some style and makeup stuff too, that’s fabulous.

This is SEWN Magazine!

This is the fashion magazine for people who make their own fashion. We are big fans of what works. Because of that, you may see things done a little differently here than the way you were taught, if you were ever taught at all. Most of us are trying to squeeze sewing time in between the laundry and a nervous breakdown. So while we can appreciate the artistry of a Gallianno gown, we are not sewing one and don’t get us started on trying to drive to dinner in one. Fashion as an industry is a little catty and very opinionated. And so are we. We’re blunt but we’re more like the battle-axe with a heart of gold than truly mean. You’re going to get the unvarnished truth.
The writers who have been kind enough to allow us to use their work are given credit, even if at this point they aren’t getting paid. What that means is that we are fiercely protective of their work. Everything here is published under a Creative Commons license that does not allow publishing to commercial sites. If you would like to use something on your blog, contact us and we’ll ask them.

Fasten your seat belts, because we are going to be moving fast. This mini-issue is just the start of something big!

Um, how can I not be interested in keeping an eye on a magazine that describes themselves as “a battle-axe with a heart of gold”? Also, it is always a good sign to see someone using a Creative Commons license.

And also, I wonder if I’m going to get in trouble because I didn’t ask before I cut and pasted from their about page? And also, is it common now for people to actually schedule their nervous breakdowns? I always did them rather spontaneously, myself, but I suppose anything is possible in this day and age. I hear some women schedule c-sections because they’re too busy to risk going into labor at a time that doesn’t fit into their schedule.

Kind of curiously, the part of that whole about section that made me stop and consider was the line “still need to get dressed to go to work in the real world.” In that phrase, I heard lash-back against the super-expensive couture and the super-trendy couture. It was rather akin to saying “Hello?! We live in a real world! We want to make real clothes, not trashy novelties or in-your-dreams designs!”

While I very much understand this sentiment, it does lead to the question of what counts as living a real life, and what are real clothes?

I recently had a very similar discussion while knitting with Bub, as we discussed knitting patterns. Although the meaning was mostly the same, the thought in question was “What is Classical?” Because she says she likes clothes with a “classic” style, and I say I like clothes of a “classic” style, and yet I know perfectly well that we are drawn to totally different styles. “Classic” all by itself, does not really communicate much. For instance, you can say you like Classical Music. Naturally, most people would take this to rather evident what it means, but at the same time, people are not at all adverse to using terms like “Classical Rock” or “Classical Country” or any other type of music.

While I was willing to grant that there were several elements that tied us together—for example, simple lines, being understated and subtle, not gaudy or trendy but maybe with a bit of a sense of humor—but fundamentally, our ideas of what constituted “classic” had different roots. Although we both claimed classic taste, we disagreed on everything from shape, neck-lines, texture and formality. Our basic disagreements came from our attitudes toward clothing.

Her idea of “classical” is based on her early life, a life that involved cocktail parties. She would be what I would describe as “Chanel Classic”, of which, as I have mentioned before, has very little appeal to me at all. I, far more comfortable being sweaty and dirty and working hard than I am in any sort of semi-formal or formal atmosphere, much prefer what I would refer to as “rustic” or “country” classic—clothes that would be utterly out of place in cocktail party, even though they would maintain the same “classic-ness” of simple lines, understatement, etc. I would call something like this classic, while her mind is still stuck on a little black dress and a strand of pearls.

So in other words, while everyone might be cheering to hear of something based toward real people with real lives, it is at the same time utterly undescriptive.

Still, we might guess.

But we might be quite wrong.

So we will just have to wait and watch.

Posted in Articles, Contemplations, Couture, Fashion, Magazines, Websites | No Comments »

Dyeing to know?

November 17th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

So you may possibly remember me mentioning my efforts to dye yarn green, and having less than stellar results. The most civilized answer to what color the yarn is has been “kahki green” or “something you would wear with combat boots”. I don’t have any combat boots. . .

Things got odder and odder when I tried dyeing test swatches with (alternately) slipskin grapes and pokeweed berries. Though the dye bath was deep purple and a brilliant fuschia, the yarn kept coming out brown, of all absurd things. So I inter-library loaned 14 hundred million books in an attempt to figure out what on earth was going on. I found lots of dots, but didn’t managed to connect them all until the 14 hundred million and one book. Dots:

  • Don’t use well water for washing your wool; the minerals in the water will form soap scum!!! (Big deal.)
  • Iron added to a dye bath will “sadden” or “dull” the colors.

For some absurd reason, it took me until I found the The art and Craft of Natural Dyeing by J.N. Liles before I finally realized what my problem was:

. . .for practically all natural dyes except madder, logwood, weld, and brazilwood, soft water is best. In former times, rainwater was considered ideal, riverwater next best, and well water the last choice since it often contained the largest amounts of dissolved salts. Not only do salts alter tehcolor of some dyes, but they can sometimes cause spotting, particularly on piece goods. Iron contamination can really create havoc with bright colors.. . .If iron contamination is suspected, dissolve a few crystals of potassium ferrocyanide in about one-half ounce of water. Add a little vinegar or weak acid. If the solution remains clear, it is iron free, but if the solution turns blue, iron contamination is present. The blue color results from the formation of Prussian blue, which is iron dependent.

Alas, I don’t happen to have a few crystals of potassium ferrocyanide hanging around, but I suspect (very, very strongly) that this is the problem. Certainly I was using well water, but my first reaction was “we don’t have that many minerals in the water!!”. After all, a few houses down the street has huge problems with iron staining, and if you go up the street the other way, there is so much sulfur in the water I can smell it across the room as soon as the tap is turned on. Our water, on the other hand, is wonderful. It has no off tastes of either iron or sulphur (is it sulfur or sulphur? they both look wrong at the moment). The fact of the matter is, it’s probably closest to spring water, as the well is very, very shallow. (We sometimes joke it’s just a buried 5 gallon bucket.) The water table in general runs very close to the surface, and it is not at all unusual to have a bunch of springs spontaneously pop up in the lawn every Spring, sometimes force the water several inches into the air.

However, I should have known better. Because it is also a plain fact of the matter that there’s a lot of iron in the ground around here, and you don’t have to go far to find it. When I dig up potatoes, I only have to go about 8 inches down before I find pale gray clay streaked with the rust of iron. So even if our well water is practically little other than run-off from the hill, it stands to reason it can pick up a fair amount of iron on the way.

The bad news is that I won’t be able to use my most ready supply of water for dying.

The good news is that I probably won’t ever have an iron deficiency, and that my water probably provides more essential vitamins and minerals than your average breakfast cereal.

All of that fascinating discussion aside, I do highly recommend The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing. He takes his dying seriously, and goes into detail. Of all my inter-library loaning, it is the only book I actually want to buy. Most other books give such scant information, or absurd repetition (pick plant; crush plant; soak plant; dye with plant. Pick some other plant; crush plant. . .etc) that they’re simply not worth it. This book is very fascinating, packed with information, and not something that someone only interested in quick-and-easy novelty dying would be interested in. If you really want answers, get this book.

Posted in Books, Color, Dyeing, Technical | 2 Comments »

I feel small. Very small.

November 15th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Everyone always tells me I’m crazy. Everyone always says I do details. Everyone always says I start at square one—the hardest way possible. Everyone is wrong. I have met my match. I have more than met my match.

I am also very jealous, because it looks like a lot of fun. And she actually finished it, unlike a large portion of my projects. And. . .and. . .I feel very small.

Here’s her blog, but mostly you can start reading here as she describes how she made a costume for her daughter. . .starting with undyed silk and no pattern. Or you can just skip ahead to the finished project here.

Posted in Websites | 3 Comments »