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 »

Copy Wrongs

September 30th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

I just got my first issue of Vogue Knitting. It’s hard to know what kind of a magazine it really is, because this is their 25th Anniversary issue, and all magazines are a “different” for their anniversary issues. Although in some ways it felt more like a really big source book (it’s the only magazine I’ve ever seen that has several state by state directories for various specific yarns), I actually had to read it. I mean, read it not give a brief skim, look over the pictures and be done with it in about 15 to 20 minutes. In some places, this magzine had text, and text that was on the small side at that. There was actually substance. I call that good place to start. I’m interested in seeing what the next issue looks like.

The most interesting thing (text-wise, to me) in this issue was the interviews with the “old gaurd knitters” and the “new gaurd knitters”. They covered a lot of ground, and there are many different things I could pick up on, but I guess what I feel like talking about today has to do with that hot-topic of copy rights and money and the internet (all three. In the same conversation). The hard part is knowing where to start and how to arrange my thoughts.

Trisha [Malcolm: Editorial Director, Vogue Knitting]: You know, I’ve witnessed a distinct disrespect for copy right in a lot of cases. . .I have a bit of a personal vendetta on the copyright issue. . .I always use Debbie Bliss as an example. They all know her, and I say, “You know, she has two children to support. If you give away her patterns or don’t buy her books, she can’t eat.

Ok, can somebody out there quickly and succintly describe copyright law? Your average lay person tends to understand copyright law as thus—“If I’m not taking credit for myself that someone else deserves, and if I’m not making money at it, I’m respecting copyright law.” But everything I’ve ever read basically boils down to “It isn’t as simple as you think, if you’re doing anything with anything that someone else has designed you can get your butt sued off; always consult your lawyer.” When it gets to the point where the average person doesn’t understand what counts as legal and what doesn’t, you know there is something wrong with the laws. Naturally, we can all understand the more extreme examples, like the one Meg Swansen offered.

Someone, qoute, “redesigned” the Baby Surprise Jacket in seed stitch and called it their own.

Everyone can easily see the offense in that. But did you know that, for instance, if you buy a sewing pattern from one of the major pattern companies, it’s against the law to sew that pattern for more than one person? If you’re a seamstress, and you are sewing bridesmaids dress for a client, and all of the bridesmaids can fit in the same size range of that pattern, you are still obligated by law to buy a seperate pattern for every dress you sew. Otherwise, you’re not respecting copyright, you’re not giving the pattern company the money they are due, and you’re using a pattern in a manner it was not meant to be used.

The more people try to find out about copyright law so they can be good law abiding citizens, the more resentful they get. The list of things you “cannot” do grows longer and longer and longer and longer. Nearly anything you want to do, which does not give you credit you don’t deserve and doesn’t make you any money, is still illegal. You find out you are not buying a product at all; you are merely buying very limited temporary rights that the company can revoke any old time it it wants to.

It’s a bit like gun control. If people want guns, and you want them controlled, you can out-law all semi-automatic guns. People might grumble and whine and complain, but generally speaking, it means that semi-automatic weapons are harder to get a hold of, and people give the law a bit grudging observance. But if you out-law all guns, then it doesn’t matter if they get a hold of semi-automatic or guns or not, they’re still breaking the law. Instead of enacting more restraint, it gives way to less. If they’re going to get in trouble regardless of what kind of gun they have, they’ll go for whatever one they want.

Or you can think of the time of the Prohibition. All alcohol was utterly banned; it was all agasint the law. The result wasn’t that everyone quit drinking; it was just that everyone became lawbreakers. Perhaps they might have had more success if they had tried to only limit alcohol and only banned the hardest, strongest stuff. But once you tell people that no matter what you do, you’re a lawbreaker, they feel no restraint to even follow even the least strict guidelines. If it’s all illegal anyway, they might as well do what they want. What’s the difference?

I feel that the same is happening toward copyright issues and intellectual property and the like. People are feeling increasingly more that “everything” is being outlawed—and if they’re going to have to be an outlaw anyway, they might as well do what they really want to do. People seem to think that if they just make copyright laws stricter and more serious, they’ll be able to crush this problem for once and for all. I think the opposite is true. Oh, you’ll always have those who are out to truly take what isn’t theirs, but for your average Joe Blow who isn’t trying to do any harm, I think it would be more profitable to simplify the copyright laws. It would do away with a lot of the grudges and bitter tastes in the mouths of the consumers which make them so loath to follow the fullness of the copyright laws to begin with.

I am reminded of an article I saw once, written for entreprenuers. It was something like “The Five Hard Truths Of Entreprenuership”, or something like that. I unfortunatley didn’t save the aritcle and can’t find it, and I can’t even remember what all of them were. But if I remember right, the first one was something like:

Don’t try to sell your orginality. You don’t have any; there is no such thing as original. And even if, by some wild freak of nature, you do happen to have something orginal, everyone else can do the same thing and do it better to boot.

How hard! But how true. Everything can be and will be knocked-off. You can cry, kick, scream, bewail the unfairnes of the universe—or you accept it as fact, and sell something other than “orginiality”—like quality, promptness, courtesy. If you think you can have one brilliant idea, and be the sole porpritor for that brilliant idea, and live off that single idea—you are destinied for dissappointment. Generally speaking, if you have to resort to the line “But I have a family to support!” you are fighting a loosing battle, and you are out of touch with reality. It may not be nice, but capitalism is survival of the fittest. If you are running a business in such a way that you can’t live off it—that’s your problem.

I am not, by any means, encouraging copyright infringement; I am merely stating the situation as I see it. When people build skyscrapers, they don’t build them to resist and stand strong and rigid in the face of every breeze. Instead, they design them to move in the wind—to not fight so powerful a force, but rather to realize it is not a force to be fought with. They must learn to live with the ever-present reality of wind, however unpleasant they might find that fact.

You may very well find it very unfair that seamstresses accross the world are taking the one pattern they bought and using it to make clothes for more than one person—pants for their husband and their father, shirts for all three of their boys—but no matter how unfair or illegal you might find it, I can assure you it is being done. If you ask my opinion (and you shall get it wether you want it or not), it would be far more constructive, conductive to good customer relationships, and much more profitiable to stop fighting it and find profitable ways to co-exist with it—even gain from it.

A profitable business is one who realizes that thier customers are more valuable than their products. People can always find the same thing, or something similar, from someone else. And what makes a valuable customer is not making sure the costumer pays every last red cent that you so richly deserve, but a loyal customer—a customer who comes back time and time again for the pleasure of doing business with you, a customer who tells everyone about you. It does not take a business degree to figure this out—you need only be a consumer yourself. Where would you like to shop? How would you like to be treated? Why do you keep going back to the same place?

The indignant response is that it looks totally different from the other side of the fence, that of course the customer thinks it’s all about him, but really it’s not.

Naturally everyone thinks they are the center of the universe. But it is my desire to start my own independant pattern company someday, and my intention is to use Creative Common Liscences. Because I want people to swap my patterns, and have “pattern libraries” of my patterns. I want people to build on them and share them, and spread them around.

But then how will I make any money?

Because if you get a book out of the library and you like it enough, you buy your own copy so you always have it on hand when you want it.

Because copying patterns is a pain, and it’s easy to click on the “Download now!” button and a pay a little money.

Because it’s even more convinient to get a printed patterns shipped right to your door.

Because I want to do custom drafting, and if the pattern your borrowing fits your friend Mary perfectly, you’ll want a pattern that fits you perfectly, too.

Because sharing, using, changing and enjoying patterns is the best advertising in the world.

Because people are basically lazy, and they’d rather pay a little rather than go through the bother of doing it themselves.

And maybe, say, a major pattern company will knock-off one of my designs. . .but they’ll be following me, and I’ll be first. I’ll make other designs, and they’ll trail me. And my customer service will be better than theirs ever could be, because it’s a rather well known fact that the larger a company is, the worse their customer service is. And if I loose a little market share to them, that’s okay, because I’ll be a small company, and having all the world wanting my glorious product would be more than I could handle. A small bit of the pie is easier to savor. People have some how got it in their heads that the end goal of any business is to conquer the world, but I don’t want to. I want to serve a small niche market that values quality and custom work. Ruling the world is utterly un-appealing to me.

Urk. This has gotten quite far a field from the Vogue Knitting article. One thing I found amusing in the article was when Mari Lynn Patrick said:

. . .And I don’t care how good a knitter you are, you have to have something to work from, technically, to get it right. You can knit off the cuff and do all kinds of things, but there are so many factors that go into putting it out in the right way. And it has to be nurtured through all the stages of getting it out in the right way.

I do find it amusing. It’s rather arrogant, I think. That there is “the right way”, that you must be “nurtured through all of the stages”, that you must get instruction from everyone else. It was even more amusing, because just a few pages before there had been an interview with Barbara Walker, who is apparently quite famous for her innovations and “discoveries” in the field of knitting. I wish I could qoute the entire interview, because I just loved it. Carla and Adina are VK editors.

Carla: How did you figure out a technique you’d never done before? Did other people help you?
Barbara: No, I’m entirely self-taught.
Carla: That’s amazing.
Barbara: I don’t know why that’s amazing. The directions are there to be read. The thing to do there, I found, was to try it a different way and see what it looked like. That way, you learn to do things differently.
Carla: That’s how you stared to invent your own stitch patterns, I assume—by doing somethign in a different way and saying “this looks great.”
Barbara: Sometimes. Or sometimes I just wanted a different-looking technique and I tried it various ways until I got what I was after.

Every little bit needs to be nurtured along to come out the right way, indeed. I also like this bit:

Carla: Tell us about other innovations of yours.
Barbara: I invented the slip-stitch color technique that I named mosaic knitting. Antoher thing was the SSK. Slip 1, knit 1, psso looked so cumbersome. I thought, There’s got to be an easier way to do that, so starting with the first treasury, I changed it to SSK. And then Elizabeth Zimmermann picked up on it and put it in her books, and from there it just spread everywhere. So now it’s the common use, right?
Carla: It is. So many people prefer it over the SKP. I didn’t realize you had introduced so many of these techniques.

Can you imagine what it would have been like if Barbara Walker had made a fuss over Elizabeth Zimmermann using “her” technique, if only certified Barbara Walker patterns could use SSK, if every desginer who wanted to use SSK in their designs had to pay Barbara Walker royalty money, if Barbara Walter spent the remainder of her time chasing down people “unlawfully mis-using” her work instead of spending her time on new knitting methods? Actually, she didn’t even spend “the remainder of her time” on new knitting methods. She moved to a warm place where sweaters were almost useless, and basically quit knitting. Her most recent obsession is mineral collecting, instead.

Adina: You’ve inspired so many designers. Do you follow the work of any in particular?
Barbara: Well, there you’re talking above my head because I have followed absolutely nothing for the past eleven years.
Adina: You’ve followed nothing! You must have been in Wal-Mart maybe? What do you think of all these crazy novelty yarns.
Barbara: I don’t even look at them.
[Everyone laughs]
Carla: You only knit with wool?
Barbara: No, I used all kinds of yarns, but I haven’t been buying yarn, so I haven’t bothered to look. So I’m passe, a dinosaur.
Adina:To us you’ll always be a rock star.

I love that being brilliant in knitting hasn’t made Barbara apathetic about trying new things or bitter about not getting the recognition she deserved, or being properly respected. And I think that Barbara pretty well illustrates the fact that the knowledge we have now is because of knowledge being freely taken and freely given. Times of learning and progress come in times of openess and sharing, not times of closely gaurded secrets and well-defended rights.

The “old gaurd” seemed more defensive of “getting what they were owed” than the “new gaurd”. I think the discussion of the “new gaurd” inadvertantly touched on that. In the “old days” you really had a lot of business overhead. It was mail order, you had to print your patterns, it was tough getting the word out about your business. Everyone photo-copying your designs could mean the difference between going out of and staying in business. But as Vickie Howell said, now “you can start a business with 100 bucks and a computer.” Debbie Stroller says “It’s interesting that it took the Internet to bring back the possibility of running a cottage industry again in an industrialized era. You don’t have to run from store to store to see who might be interested in buying your stuff; you can immediately make it availiable.”

The Internet does change a lot. The ones who will be successful will be the ones who understand the best way to use it, instead of fighting it or misusing it. The “new gaurd” got to talking about Local Yarn Stores.

Adina:. . .Yarn shops do have to adapt to the Internet, but the Internet has to respect from whence it came, which is the yarn shop.
Debbie: Adina, I don’t think that can actually happen. I think the LYS needs to think about what it can offer that the Internet can’t, and focus on that, for better or worse.

I think Debbie hit the nail on the head, though the others felt that “it’s our obligation to keep people going to the yarn stores,” and that “that’s an excellent point: keeping in mind that this is a profession for the owners.”

I’m sorry, guys, but capitalism is survival of the fittest. It doesn’t care what would be “nice”. If you’re trying to make money, it’s your responsibility to see to it you offer something people will buy. If no one is buying, that’s not the customers fault, it’s yours. Adapt or die. Nobody “owes” it to you to keep you in business.

Clara [Parkes]:That’s what we’re fighting against—that all-for-one, one-for-all, free-patterns, we-should-be-helping-each-other, it’s-women-after-all. That it’s almost crude to introduce filthy lucre into it.

Kinda sad, I think, to live in a day in age where it’s virtous to fight against that “all-for-one, one-for-all” mentality. I think the yarn shops just have to get with it. They have to decide if they’re a warm and fuzzy community or a business. If they’re trying to be warm and fuzzy, well, I don’t think they do have much place to be charging money for teaching. It’s a called a knitting guild, it’s a community, and people help each other. Maybe they should just turn it into a coffe shop and sell coffee instead.

If they’re a business, then they should charge—it’s called “classes” or “one-on-one tutoring”, and there’s nothing nasty about it, as long as they don’t treat their students in a nasty manner.

I suppose that shall have to be all for today, though there’s lots more I could say, and I’m sure it’s all in desperate need of editing and proof-checking. My mind is frizzled, my eyes are sick of the computer, my back is tired of this lousy computer set-up, and it’s utterly glorious outside. Hopefully it has been good enough to inspire a little thought, regardless.

Posted in Articles, Contemplations, Magazines | 8 Comments »

Perspiration for Inspiration

September 5th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

So last night when I was very tired and should have been going to bed, I happened to check my email and discovered an email from eQuilter wanting me to take their survey. (If you did, they’d give you a $5 gift certificate at their store, but that was just gravy. If anyone would ever like to start paying me by the word, I’m going to make money hand-over-fist.) The survey questions were all about magazines—which ones do you get? How often? Where else do you get your inspiration?

The most annoying part was that after I’d completed the survey and went to bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and all the things that I didn’t say but really need to be said. (I mean, really need to be said. The world can’t continue without these things being said!)

This survey was in some ways very difficult to fill out, because I’m currently not getting any magazines. Not because I have anything against magazines in general; in fact, I’ve always really looked foward to getting an inspiring, challenging magazine in the mail. And therein lines the problem. In a multiple of ways. Number one difficulty is “really, really looked foward to”. High hopes cannot help but be dashed, and I found that getting a magazine that was a dissappointment to me was more upsetting than not getting a magazine at all.

I tried Burda WOF, but I discovered that 99.7% of the patterns did not interest me, so that was a waste of money. Sew News always makes me feel like sewing—the people writing it obviously really enjoy sewing—but it never seemed challanging enough. Threads routinely made my blood-pressure sky-rocket due to their empahsis on being a top-notch magazine, instead of being a top-notch sewing magazine. They’re so worried about layout and design and slick photos and fonts and all such thing that the lose sight of what’s really important—the SEWING!!! The content seemed to be mediocre at best, and never really left me either inspired or challanged, or really wanting to sew. It’s a nice magazine though. . .very polished.

One question everyone wants answered is, well, what do you want? I know exactly what I’d like out of a magazine, but no one wants to play my game. People I know always say “If they’re not writing about the things you want them to write about, why don’t you write about it, and submit your writing?” But I know what I want to know, I don’t know what I don’t know! If anyone would like to start reasearching what I’m interested in and submitting articles to me, I’d be jolly-well happy. In the meantime, I do not have either the knowledge and/or time to research these things. What little I do scrape up and learn, I usually trickle out onto this blog, but you could hardly call this a magazine.

For instance, right off the bat, if you asked me what half a dozen articles I’d like to be reading right now, I can tell you. Here:

  • What Happens When You Dye? I want to know what’s going on, chemically speaking. What does alum do to the wool that makes it absorb dye better? Why does cream of tartar make all the alum go into the wool? Why do dyes for protein based fibers (wool, silk, etc.) need to be different from cellouse based fibers (cotton, linen, etc.)? What the on earth is a “fiber reactive dye” and how does it work? What are those molocules and fibers doing? I’m a big girl, I can handle it!
  • A Study on the Clothing of Annie Oakley I recently stumbled upon a book called The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley, by Glenda Riley. I only skimmed a few places in the book, but discovered that “. . .Annie soon began to design and sew her own costumes, a habit that continued throughout her career. . .” and must have had a good deal of skill at that, too, because “. . .When Annie first traveled abroad in 1887, her simple style of dress aroused a great deal of interest among English women. One wrote to to Society Times praising Oakley’s riding costuem, which she thought ‘cool, comfortable, and handsome.’ According to Annie, this letter resulted in so many requests for dress patterns that she could have started a ‘business as a lady’s tailor.’” Annie aparently had strong feelings about ladylike dress, refusing to wear bloomers or trousers, but not letting her apparell stop her from doing whatever she pleased, including riding and shooting from a bicycle. Although she insisted on lady-like behavior and clothing, she didn’t take to the point of absurd impracticallity, as when recommending what clothing women should wear shooting, she held that “it was ‘impossible to shoot brilliantly in a tight-fitting bodice–absolutely impossible.’ Moreover, ladies who walked through ‘fields of wet roots. . .wearing skirts down to the ground’ would get soaked and muddy. Their pleasure would soon ‘give way to misery.’ Annie instead recommended a loose-fitting boidce of some soft material, preferably tweed, and a skirt falling half-way between the knee and the ankle, a costume that would be both becoming and practical.” I have always been taken with things that can combine practical with pretty, form with function.

    Although the book describes several of the outfits she wore, I would like to see her clothing properly examined, with photographs and pattern schemantics. It really shouldn’t be too hard for somebody, since there is a whole “Annie Oakley Foundation”, and I shouldn’t be surprised if many of her original garments still existed.

  • Baby Clothes That Are Beautiful and Achievable Anybody who’s ever been around babies knows they grow fast. Really fast. So what’s the point of heirloom baby clothes—the baby will out-grow it before you finish it! Beisides the question of whether or not you actually have the time to make something so labor intensive. But if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page (I can’t seem to get a link to an individual post; this link is to all of the posts she did that day), you can see a baby dress that looks both acheivable and beautiful: it has what appears to be a crocheted (or knitted?) bodice, attached to a simple white cotton skirt. Now I’m wasting time laying awake wondering how to make it. . .how would I attach the crochet to the skirt? Is there a pattern for a yoke/bodice like that? Because that’s something I could make for an expectant mother and actually get it done before the kid was three sizes larger. And it would be pretty and special, but not a tragedy if the mother didn’t have another girl to get more use out of such a small dress. And it’s not fussy, and it is comfortable, and it DOESN’T OVERWHELM THE BABY like so many “new-baby” dresses do. So many “heirloom” girls’ clothes has so much froth and frills and tuck and pleats that there is more dress than there is child, which not a look I like.
  • What Do Duluth’s Pattern Pieces Look Like? My brothers all swear that the most comfortable jeans in the world are these. Duluth is very big on Freedom Of Movement, and so they have lots of gussets in them. Figuring out the shape of the gusset is easy, but how does it play with the rest of the pattern pieces? Do the other pieces remain unchanged? One of these days, I suppose I’ll have to take a worn-out pair apart, just so I know. Since they find it so comfortable, I’d use that pattern for everything from dress to casual pants, which is all mostly in the fabric you use. Gussets fascinate me. I wish I had a better understanding of them.
  • How is That Fabric Woven? If you clicked on the above link for Duluth’s pants, you can see they are actually made out of canvas, not denim. This is part of what lends these pants some of their comfort—canvas has, apparently, more give and flex than denim. But why? How are the warp and weft manipulated to create canvas? And is there any difference between “canvas” and “duck”? And what on earth is “filled duck“? And while we’re talking about fabric, how is seersucker made? I want an indepth explanation and very detailed drawings!!
  • Women’s Hats: How to Make and Wear Them I recently saw a picture of my Great-Grandmother at my Grandmother’s wedding. She was wearing a dress with a semi-scooped next and a very full skirt, white gloves and a hat. She looked utterly elegant. So how come my biggest frustration with hats is trying to find one that doesn’t look stupid? And since no one is selling hats worth buying, how can I make my own? Millinary used to be a major business and part of peoples lives, and now it’s just an archaic bit of knowledge. Historical clothing records throughout time have always talked of head dresses, for both men and women, so it seems rather peculiar to me that hats are mostly non-existant in this day and age. I, for one, would like to have a few nice hats, if I could just make some that didn’t look stupid on me.

One thing you will immediatly notice is how diverse that list is. And that’s exactly it.

The eQuilter survey wanted to know where I was currently getting my inspiration from. “Survival of the fittest, man! I keep my eyes peeled and my ears perked. Anytime I see anything remotely resembling inspiration, I pounce like a half-starved animal!” Patterns, sales flyers, magazines and cataloges, random websites, fabric, friends, chance color combinations, historical or vintage works, even very rarely from a dream. You should never hesitate. I’ve clipped from The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, and even The Economist.

Sometimes researchers want to pigeon-hole you, and they’ll ask some question like:

“Which interests you the most:

a. fashion sewing

b. quilting

c. home dec.

d. heirloom sewing

e. couture/hand techniques

f. art to wear

g. embellishing”

They can’t seem to grasp “all of the above”.

And they can’t seem to grasp the idea that you can’t say what it is that inspires you until you’ve been inspired, and by then it’s too late to inspire you with any more of that inspiration. An inspiration is a surprise that makes you think of things you hadn’t thought of before.

Inspiration is all about making you reach and stretch and grow, not finding you already in your comfort zone and gently rocking you, an act that will only make your imagination fall quite soundly asleep.

If you are inspired by a brid in flight, or a certain color green, you don’t spend the rest of your life making things that look like that one bird in flight or that are that certain color green. Dwelling on one thing leads to stagnation, not developement and growth.

Oh, sure, we’ll often have certain prefrences or tastes that will show up like a repeated motif througout our work. Even in my short list above, you can easily see the themes of practicality (form and function) and a deep or thorough understanding of what’s going on (knowing where you’ve been helps inform where you want to go next).

But as for asking us to say what it is that will inspire us—well, that’s like asking us to pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps. If we could know what would inspire us, we would already be inspired.

A very few people may remember what the very first issues of Threads were like. The issues were diverse and wide ranging; they covered everything from how to make custom shoes to studying the clothing of the Amish. They had articles on sewing and knitting and weaving and just about everything that could be construed as having a “thread” in it.

They were fascinating, instructing and challanging. They encouraged you to explore, to learn something more than what skill set you already had. They drew you to borrow from craft to craft. They told you that there was a lot more out there than you ever knew existed, and they helped you find it.

And that is inspiration.

. . .And I apologize for what I’m sure are many typos and mispellings, but I’m beginning to go cross-eyed from sitting in front of the computer. If anyone wants to pay me for my writing, I’ll be sure to at least use the spell checker!. . .

Posted in Contemplations, Magazines | 3 Comments »

Isaac's Stylebook

February 23rd, 2007 by tatterdemalion

When I first read about Isaac Mizrahi’s Style Book magazine, I was doubtful that I would find it the slightest bit interesting. I’m not exactly a “style” kind of person–I don’t follow fads or fashion, don’t have money, and don’t care. I figured it would be another magazine telling you how to spend a lot of money so you can have the perfect life as they envision it, which is usually a lot differently than I envision it. You know how it goes: these are these are the brands to buy, this is how you should look, this is the celebrity that’s in, etc., etc. And, of course, all throughout, it would be riddled with ads and placements for “Isaac” products. And so I took the introduction with a biiiiig grain of salt. Talk is cheap, don’t cha know.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s not totally relevant to sewing, because by “style” they do mean “life style”, not just clothing related. But it was much more honest and undirected than I had ever expected to see. One article touts a certain brandname of jean, and a following article denounces it. The people writing the articles had different opinions, and the “right” brand was not dictated by the editors.

The food article discusses making fresh fish soup in graphic detail, right down to goring the milky dead eyes out of the stinking carcasses with a paring knife. Even here, where the cooking lesson is being taught, there is no snobbery, no “this soup must be made with only these ingredients, or it is no soup worth having”. Instead, it says “bouillabaisse was never about exotic ingredients,” and even goes so far as to say “. . . langoustines, while tasty, are unnecessary and expensive, and price should be a guide.” This is thouroughly encouraging. True, I could care less about floating in mineral water or Peru beaches, but knowing that I would not be reading glossed over endorsements made it more fun to read. The honest truth is often very hard to find.

Not only is there an emphasis in not glossing things over, but there is an emphasis on diversity of opinions and tastes. For their “Swatches” feature, they picked a color and had various people choose objects of that color, and give their comments on it. They picked pink, which they said was their favorite color. Pink ranks rather low on my list of favorite colors. But the different views on pink were fascinating. My favorites of their picks were:

  • The design of the Pauline Trigere dress. Though I really don’t like bubble skirts, I loved the attached cape.
  • The practicality of the baker, Sylvia Weinstock–“We will do anything within reason that the bride wants, even candy flowers. Pink is a very popular color. It’s a very flattering color. I prefer peach, but most people prefer pink. For pink cakes we use food coloring, of course, but it’s bitter in taste and must be kept to a pale tone—if you’re eating it, that is. The more color you use, the more it comes off on your mouth and teeth. That’s why there are no royal blue cakes.” You really have to appreciate the gaurded “within reason”, and the rather dry, “That’s why there are no royal blue cakes”.
  • The whimsy of the carpet. “In the middle of this misty green, green land, I walked into the Newport House for a tea and a scone and saw a fruit salad of colors. The most luscious of all was the pink rug. Who would imagine such a thing in Ireland? —Maira Kalman, illustrator and author, New York I think it’s that last line there that makes me smile. I mean really, in Ireland? How absurd! Absurd things always make me smile.

There was more than a few smiles in this magazine for me, and even a few laughs. The cooking article was definetly a favorite of mine, simply for the tone and experiences shared in it.

Confession: Husband and wife have different taste. I like a bit of flash, while Justin prefers minimalism. As a compromise we usually end up somewhere in Denmark

But of course. Where else? (Perhaps I just find geography funny. . .) They were open and honest about their ignorance (mine, too, thank you very much). . .

We love cheese, but we knew very little about it. Thank goodness for Liz Thorpe, the cheese guru at Murray’s. Liz was no snooty fussbudget;

. . .and their own, un snooty-fussbudget tastes.

The blue was heaven on earth. To Justin, it was the equivalent of frat-boy hazing of the eat-my-shorts variety. Whatever—that just meant more for me.

And the article really was educational, too. My favorite new fact, being a cheese-lover myself, was Justin’s suggestion of a diet.

Furthermore, she said, cheese has every vitamin and mineral except vitamin C. “So you could just eat cheese and drink OJ and be healthy?” Justin asked. “That’s a plan,” she said.

And I had to flat out laugh, when the professional chef giving the soup lesson gave his time estimate.

“This took me, what, an hour and a half from stock to eating?” he said. “I promise you, it will take you at least four hours.” Little did he know the harsh reality that was to come in my kitchen, which is roughly the same size as his stovetop.

As near as I can piece out from the article, it took her and her husband around 12 hours, and I can’t say that I blame them.

But, by far, my favorite article was the one written by the guy who hand-sewed a pair of jeans. We would have to do DNA testing to see if we were genetically related, but I’m guessing there’s probably a pretty high posibility. Even if you aren’t one of those rare people who would not only have such an absurd idea as to stitch, by hand, a pair of jeans complete with belt loops and flat-felled seams, but also to carry through with said absurd idea–well, you’d still enjoy the article. He begins by explaining his reason for embarking on the project.

My mother—perhaps the most polymathically capable person I have ever known—made all her own clothes while she was in medical school. I, in turn, strive daily to be a desirable addition to any bomb shelter. I cut my own hair; I can make a fire with sticks. I’d gladly skip out on calf- birthing lessons, but I would like to know how to make my own clothes. . .Seeing as how I have no facility for machines (all my skills are low-tech; I can silver-leaf a table [oo, now I want to learn how to silver-leaf a table.–T], but I can’t figure out the speed dial on my phone), I decided that I would make my pants employing nothing more than needle, scissors, pins, and thread. I am the most innocuous Ted Kaczynski alive, my anti-industrial posture resulting not in domestic terrorism, but rather in an inadvertent hewing to the strictest codes of couture. Oddly enough, setting up my atelier of one also meant I would be an unwitting and reluctant participant in the current mania for premium and customized denim, a craze in which I cannot feign interest. Trends by their nature evoke suspicion in me, but jeans that cost hundreds of dollars per pair and have ironically egalitarian names like Seven for All Mankind and Citizens for Humanity seem worse than merely faddish. They strike me as obnoxious bordering on hateful. I am not the market, I know, given my general indifference. . .

I can’t tell you how eery it was to read the article, as we approach things in almost the exact same manner–listing out the reasonable steps, and ending with a clueless how-hard-could-it-be?, followed immediately after by finding out exactly how hard it can be. When confronted with the enormity of the task, we both first switch to self delusion—We’ll take short-cuts. Next, as though we share the same schedule, we turn to obsession and pig-headeadness, which is usually pretty effective for making up for lack of knowledge or experience. It also utterly does away with our planned short-cuts, and causes us to go back and rip out already completed work, just to make it look a little better. We refuse to rest until we have every tiny detail in place. He ends by saying,

. . .they look no different from actual jeans, save for a lack of rivets. Actually, that’s not true. They do look different. The evidence of the hand is everywhere—the lines of stitches that here and there meander ever so subtly from their course, like the most peaceful of rivers; the “red tab” fashioned from a piece of grosgrain ribbon salvaged from a long-forgotten gift—but is undetectable even from a distance of two feet away. They are like a photograph that, upon closer examination, turns out to be a cunning picture made out of butterfly wings or dried beans. I find them unutterably cool, almost precisely for how quiet they are.

Me, too.

In every way. To me, one of the greatest pinnacles of clothing design is clothes that look perfectly typical upon first glance, and become more and more fascinating the longer you study them. I love quiet clothing. And I love “the evidence of the hand”, in everything.

The advertising in the magazine is also very quiet, but no less effective. There are no ads. There are no “you can buy it here”, there are no “new this season!”. There is simply the name, Isaac Mizrahi, on the front cover, and any time there is a refrence to the magazine staff. You read an article, enjoy it, and associate that enjoyment with “Isaac Mizrahi”. Very insidious, and very effective. I went from barely recognizing his name and not caring one whit what he was up to, to having my ears perk up every time I head his name mentioned, and wondering what his clothing looked like.

Oh, and there were pictures of his work, but not like what you would expect. They were very atmospheric, very engaging of the imagination:

People working–a flurry of hands and pins and tape measures.

A table with brightly colored fabric layed out on it; behind it, a rack of clothing, the garments carefully protected with plastic. Daylight is pouring through the streaked windows, but you can only see a rather depressed looking brown building through them. The steam raditor and the antique chairs give it an old, other-worldy sort of feel, but the bar-code sticker on the shipping box under the table gives it away.

Shoes and feet, and floors—old floors, wooden floors, the wide boards both painted and worn.

Open jackets that have been set aside, the sunlight playing off their satiny interiors.

People tying ties, cutting fabric.

You can see people talking with their hands—thinking, considering, explaining—that way that people hold their hands when they see something in their mind and they’re trying to show it to you.

Sometimes you see several sets of hands easing sleeves onto garments that are already being worn by models.

And the models—they’re alive! Some are dressed in nothing but muslin toiles, some are still pulling sweaters over their head, but they have expression. They are preplexed; tired, amused, and above all, watchful—watching the multitudes of hands moving about them, watching the fabric take shape over them. In most pictures, they seem to be complacent in the midst of the whirlwind around them, but my favorite picture is one of several women off in a corner. They’ve all been dressed up; it must be between shoots. But they’re talking, they’re expressive, they’re alive, and the dresses look better there than any other picture (even the offical collection pictures on Isaac Mizrahi website).

I just love pictures where you can swear you can hear as well as see—hear the hustle, hear the questioning tones, hear the laughter, hear the life.

I was sorry when the magazine ended.

Posted in Isaac Mizrahi, Magazines | 3 Comments »