The House of Tatterdemalion


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Somebody cue the music—here it comes!!

July 26th, 2008 by tatterdemalion

Which? What? Pictures and stories of my first ever self-drafted dress! That I finished last year, and never told you about, and finally now am gracing you with it’s presence! It is, basically, proof-positive that I finished Pattern Drafting 101. Taught be me. I was at the head of the graduating class. Which was only me.

Anyway, this is post is dedicated to Bridget. It’s all her fault. No, not really. Really, I could “Thank You” to a million people. Not really. I don’t know a million people. But there is the author of my one-and-only text book (Elizabeth Allemong and her wonderful book European Cut), and my sister who patiently took all my measurements a half-dozen times, and my aunt who introduced me to the world of sewing (but she’d probably die a million deaths if she realized she was responsible for starting me down this path, because for heaven’s sake you’re not supposed to take hobbies so seriously!), and my parents who borned me into this world in the first place—but I’m dedicating this one to Bridget.


‘Cause otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it, and it doesn’t matter how well you start if you never, ever finish. Oh, I guess I probably would have finished it. Eventually. Sometime. Maybe. But I was getting so sick of this project. I had reached ultimate saturation. I didn’t want to look at it, didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to work on it. And every time I looked at it, it seemed like it looked worse than it had the time before. And I was, like, 90% of the way there! It just needed finishing up, hemming and boring stuff like that. But instead, it had been tossed into a corner and was just sitting there. Bridget gave me the encouragment, that yes, actually, it’s coming along quite nicely indeed. So finish it.

Also, she kept me company while I cut, sewed, pressed and hemmed 177″ of bias binding. You really, really, really need company when doing something as tedious and mind-numbing as that.

Besides all that, you’d never being seeing this post except for her. She helped me cull through the over 130 photos my (very wonderful) sister took of me wearing the dress (yes, the same sister who took all my measurements!). It’s really no fun looking at over 130 photos of yourself. Then again, maybe she didn’t have fun looking at 130 photos of me, either, but she did it anyway. A true friend (but I’m sure the brownies didn’t hurt, either. . .they were really good brownies).

Anyway, yes. The dress. And me. Brace yourselves!

The Front

The side


The Back

You simply would not believe the tedious hours that went into making this dratted thing. The 177″ of homemade bias binding hem is just the beginning.

The hem

Besides the hem in this picture, you will note a couple of other things. For one thing, the whole dress is underlined. Interlined. Regular old lined. Something. Having bought this fabric way too many years ago when I was young and foolish, I failed to be deterred by the fact that it was rather thin. Very thin. Thin enough it really needed something more to keep it decent. This caused some disappointment to me later on. It may have needed two layers of fabric for opacity’s sake, but those two layers make it much, much warmer. Not so great for wearing during already-quite-warm-enough-thank-you-very-much weather. Everything I have ever read has claimed that building a dress like this will make it less prone to wrinkling, but the whole thing is 100% cotton, so I doubt you’ll see much of a difference on that count.

A second thing you will notice is all the orange thread-tracing lines. Techincally, now that the dress is done, they should be taken out. But that’s fuss and bother, and you can’t see them from the outside, and I’m quite finished working on this. I’m not in the least bit repentant of doing all that thread tracing, though. It was extremely useful for getting the pleats to line up right, and the darts and everything else. It is a time-eater, but if I ever have pieces-that-must-line-up, I would do it again in an instant. It was very reliable, didn’t go away until you wanted it to, and then did go away when you did want it to. It was Precise. I liked it.

inside detail

This is the inside shoulder; you can see the back shoulder dart. If you look close, you can see my hand stitching securing the muslin underlayer shoulders to each other. I was really doing quite the hybrid. I sewed a lot of the dress treating the muslin and the “fashion fabric” as one—the darts, and most of the seams. But where ever it tickled my fancy, I did it otherwise. The side seams were sewed together, but the inner and outer skirts were hemmed seperately. The muslin was treated as a lining at the neck and sleeve ends, sandwiching the (self-made) piping in between. And here, I sewed the “fashion fabric” shoulder seams seperately from the muslin, and descreetly hand stitched the muslin shoulder seams by hand. It made for a nice smooth finish.

Not that it was all so fine. Most of the time I just zig-zagged the seam allowances. I didn’t have a serger at the time. . .

inside scoop

Yes, you do see a waiststay. I was very ambivilant about putting it in. They say it’s supposed to support the weight of the skirt, and keep it from straining the rest of the dress. Having a hem that was 127″, and double layers of fabric, I thought that maybe it was necessary. But it’s rather uncomfortable, and I’m not sure at all that it makes any difference in the least. Especially since this was supposed to be a casual dress. Maybe if I was using fine, delicate fabric, I would be more worried. As it is—-it’s cotton. It’ll survive. Or not. I’m not too worried about it.

I say it was “supposed” to be a casual dress. It was. It was supposed to be the kind of dress you could host a picnic in—unfussy, but nice. The only reason I thought I could get away with such a fitted bodice is because I very cleverly added an ease-pleat in the back of the dress.

ease pleat

See? Very clever. I even precisely matched the print. Only problem? Sorry, Miss Knucklehead. You need your ease further down than that. As it is, I nearly burst a seam when I try to scoop ice cream, which means that whenever I wear this dress, I feel formal. And by “feel formal” I mean, I feel like I’m good for nothing but standing, prim and proper. Or maybe walking. But not doing anything that involves my reaching with my arms, with eliminates a startling number of activities. Half the time I ignore the “don’t move!” feeling and get on with my life anyway, but it is just not the casual do-anything dress I’d invisioned. I feel like such a failure. Kind of. Not really. The fit is really good, but I’m still pretty annoyed with this dress.

shoulder fit

Oh, well. At least I remembered to put in a pocket, and that’s once less annoyance.


The dratted back ties—they’re dratted because (1) I can’t tie them myself; I never mastered bow-tying behind my back, and (2) I cut it on the bias, which made it very difficult to sew without distorting.


Why did I do that? I don’t know. I think I thought the ties would be more fluid and coopertive when tied. Maybe they are. . .


Its loose in the back, but stitched down in the front, along the bottom edge. By hand. After tediously sewing it on by hand, I got it into my head to measure my stitches in their regularity and size. . .

Whoa. 1/16th of an inch, square on, everytime. Freaky. I guess maybe all my hand-quilting is paying off? Somebody go tell the atliers I’m readying for hiring!

I put a lot of silly stress on myself while working on this project. I just felt like it had to be perfect. It was a like a thesis paper, or something. It had to be the proof that I really truly had been learning, did learn. That I could draft to specific measurments and produce quality sewing. As such, how could I ever be fully satisfied with it? Every little mistake seemed like a disaster, completely obscuring the view of the rest of it. Instead of being pleased with how much I had accomplished, I wound up just being disgruntled with every little place where it didn’t seem to me to be perfect. Maybe that’s why, having drafted basic slopers that would enable me to make any dress, skirt or top I could possibly imagine, the only thing I wanted to do next was figure out how to make pants. Instead of feeling like I’d accomplished dress-making, I felt like I couldn’t measure up, and wanted to divert my attention elsewhere. Thankfully, I’ve relaxed (at least a bit), and my pattern drafting has continued.

Besides, in the grand scheme of things, the dress works:


me in front of a tree

here I am

in a tree

(Yes, you can climb a tree in this dress. If you’re detirmined. Or pig-headed. Take your pick, but I think I have a fair dose of one or the other!)

still in the tree

what do you see?

somewhere else

the other way


Besides, till this dress, I had only made 4 pieces of clothing for anything other than children. 3 of them were jumpers, and none of them came close to fitting.

I do believe I shall give myself a passing grade.

[Tune in next time, when I discuss my thoughts that went into the design of this dress. I have always been frustated by people who will tell you what they did, without giving any hint as to why they did it. I shall. And it will be fascinating. Sort of. Anyway, I’m out of time for it for now, because I’ve got to wash dishes, which is just loads of fun.]

Posted in Completions, Contemplations, Couture, Projects | 3 Comments »

Aloo fibers smell like goat.

June 7th, 2008 by tatterdemalion

I am sure you were all in desperate need of that astounding fact. It is true. I’m messing around with some Aloo fiber (it’s a thistle that grows in the Himalayas–oops. I mean nettle. I looked it up. I know the difference between nettle and thistle, really I do!) right now, and I can’t stop thinking “Good gravy! This smells like goat!!” And I know what goats smell like.

Did you wonder where I’d gone? Did you pine for me? Did you suppose I had given it all up in favor of dancing the polka and curling my hair? Nope! First of all, I don’t know how to dance the polka. And my hair is already curly, so traditionally, I ought to be struggling desperately to uncurl.

Nor did I die, or fall of the face of the earth, though I suppose if you wanted to be dreadfully theatrical, you could say I nearly did both. Once a week, I go up to my grandparents to watch over them and houseclean while my brother (he stays with them 24/7, as neither of them is capable of taking care of themselves) does the grocery shopping. The short-cut from back-roads-the-middle-of-nowhere to the-interstate-which-can get-you-anywhere is a very steep hill, chock full of hair-pin turns. Going up this hill, if you look to the right, you can see for a million miles all around as it overlooks valleys and hills. On the right, it’s an open empty field. On the left, it’s a boulder-strewn gully filled with trees.

So I take this road once a week, and I made it all through the WHOLE winter with it’s snow and ice and wind without incident. Even though I drove a midget little Geo Prisim which cried every time it attempt that hill, and liked to floated on slushy roads. And then we get this one very last freak snow, hardly worth mentioning. But of course it is windy (and did you know that Geo’s are kissing cousins to kites?) and a dusting of snow blows over a chilly patch in the road. Despite the fact that the vehicle is barely moving (this is a Geo, remember, and it is trying to climb a hill. A steep hill), I of course loose control of the vehicle.

I am happy to report that when I went airborne, I was facing the open field, not the gully.

If you have never been in any sort of accident like that, allow me to inform you that it is a very weird experience. No, really. You would think it would be terrifying, but you kind of don’t have enough time for it all to sink it—it all goes so fast. You can’t take in all the facts of the physical happenings around you, much less pause for philosophical and emotional ponderings.

And after it—well, it’s over. The lady in the SUV behind me was far more upset than I was. Although, she herself said it was far more upsetting to watch than to be in one—between her and her husband, they’ve wiped out on that road 3 different times. She was so upset she was nearly crying; I could only think about three things.

(1) Whoa, major adrenaline rush. I feel really, really weird. It’s going to take a while to flush all this from my system.

(2) Crap, I just totaled my Dad’s car.

(3) I am going to be soooo late.

It’s odd, but when you can get up and walk away, you can never quite grasp how close you may have come—to what? Broken bones? Months of coma? Dying? Who knows? You can’t. You don’t even know what just happen. For instance, the couple in the SUV didn’t want to believe me when I said I was alright; I couldn’t understand the concern until they explained I had been getting thrown around in the car. This was very difficult for me to believe, but the resulting case of whiplash the next day convinced me. Who knows how close I came to disaster? I suppose the couple behind me in the SUV. I suppose it does all make sense that she was more upset watching me than wrecking herself.

Certainly, I think, she will remember it for quite some time. 10 years from now, she’s going to sit up in bed in the middle of the night and say, “Honey, remember when we were driving up that hill behind that girl, and she went flying through the air, and we let her borrow our cell phone to call home, and when she was talking to her Mom she was all like “I’m fine, but Geo is no longer functional, so someone will have to pick me up.” ‘The Geo is no longer functional,’ can you believe that?!!”

She had a hard time not cracking up at phrasing at the time, and I suppose in retrospect I can sort of see why. I suppose such matter of fact statements aren’t exactly expected after one emerges from a crash landing. But at the time I could only stare at her blankly and wonder on earth I was supposed to say. I was fine; the Geo wasn’t functional, and someone did have to pick me up. That covers all the important points, yes?

Actually, the Geo was functional. Sort of. A pick-up truck was dispatched from home, and in the time it took themsleves to pull themselves together and drive the five miles out, a total and complete stranger had pulled up and checked to make sure I was all right, and then left to get a pick up; shortly thereafter another total and complete stranger pulled up in the pick up truck; pick-up truck man and SUV behind me man got the car unembedded; and it was discovered that car could still run. Technically. The headlights dragged on the ground and the doors wouldn’t close right, and it was quite rattley and bang-y, but there were no leaking liquids. They dutifully followed me to the bottom of the hill, where I sat waiting for a few moments before the pick-up truck from home arrived. (Seeing me properly centered on the road and the vehicle appearing only a bit battered, they couldn’t help but wonder why I had called for help. I had to inform them they were simply slow on the draw. Actually, it wasn’t so much that they were slow is that everyone else was so fast. I can’t help but wonder how many times per winter that guy pulls people out without a second thought. He is certainly not paid and probably not even thanked, considering the speed of which he completes the project and leaves.)

But it is toast. The frame is bent. Alas and alack and all that.

And what else? Let me s. . . I accidentally chopped off a bit of my finger with a carving knife. That counts as a near death experience, right?


And I got a splinter jammed way down underneath my fingernail, and I’m pretty sure that counts.


And I had the flu, which made me feeling like I was dying, but only because I like to complain and mope. I don’t have any pictures for that. . .My Dad is probably going to hate me for posting those pictures of my finger. He can never bear to look. I do believe it upsets him more when my finger is dripping blood than to know I wrecked his car. I mean, OK, I get it that your own flesh-and-blood is far more important than a mechanical pile of metal (and less replacable, too). But it was a teeny eeny weeny winey cut, and it healed up promptly, like I knew it would. (This is the same bleeding finger only 1 week later. You can’t even tell, any more, of course.)

And the car is still. . .dead. Twisted. Worthless. Etc. (I think he’s just squimish about blood.)

Anyway, I haven’t been writing, but I have been sewing. And knitting. Both quite a bit, actually. If I ever get off my lazy bum and take/post pictures of it all, you will all get to see that I’m exactly like every body else—I go on endlessly about the stuff I’ve made, regardless of whether it’s worth comment.

Until then, just for the record, I’d like to state that I’m not dead. And that Aloo fibers smell like goat.

Posted in Contemplations | 1 Comment »

Clippings of Miscellany

February 3rd, 2008 by tatterdemalion

Today I made some attempt at cleaning up, my constant struggle, and found a lot of clippings I had meant to comment on. It seems only fitting to start with the review I ripped out of The Economist (January 6th, 2007). The book under the microscope is called A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place. No, I am not making this up.

One of the things this review taught me was the varying difference on what constitutes organzied. It says:

. . .A rough storage system (important papers close to the keyboard, the rest distributed in loosely related piles on every flat surface) takes very little time to manage. Filing every bit of paper in a precise category, with colour-coded index tabs and a neat system of cross-refrencing, will certainly take longer. And by the end, it may not save any time.

Indeed. I thought that what they refer to as “a rough storage system” counted as being organized. Color-coded index tabs and neat systems of cross-refrencing border on a mental obsession. (Not that I don’t know people who have such systems; I posit that mental obsessions are a lot more “normal” than most people are willing to accept.) “Disorganized” is when there is no system of storage; “organized chaos” is a perfectly acceptable storage system.

On the whole, it seemed like the book made a half-way decent case for not being a control freak and not worrying about or planning every stupid little thing, of which I whole-heartedly agree. One cited example was how America’s Marine Corps never make detailed plans in advance, because leaving the details to the last minute reduces the risk of wasting time on things that may ultimately prove not important at all. They also note, as I have, that disorder and creativity are closely linked. The book argues that all the hype and fuss about being organzied and neat does more to spread guilt, not boost productivity.

In the end, though, the reviewer gets the final word. For one thing, it was noted by the reviewer that the case for tidiness in some environments is overwhelming—surgery, for example. Yes, indeedy, I would like anyone doing surgery on me to be to be very exact, and to have all my files neatly filed with color-coded index tabs. While it might be very creative to do a hernia repair on someone needing their appedix removed, it would hardly be humorous or helpful.

And also,

The other thing is that the book is a bit repetitive and disorganised. Even readers who leve mess in their own lives don’t necessarily like it in others.

Ha. Isn’t that the truth.

The subject as a whole reminds me of a qoute I saw once—People who are organized are just too lazy to look for things.

I think one must be careful to avoid being extreme in either direction. It is not pleasant to live somewhere where everything must be just so, cleaned and organized to the point that one is afraid to breath for fear of messing up the intricate order of the air. It’s also not pleasant to live in some place that is so cluttered and disorganized nothing can be found or accomplished. I would never go so far as to say it is morally repugnant to not be roughly organized, but being roughly organized certainly makes for more pleasant living, and yes, greater productivity. I’ve yet to see, though, much benefit to highly detailed filing systems. The person I know who is most detailed in their organization has to spend about as much time trying to remember which file she filed something in than I would fishing it out of my loosely organized pile.

There is a need for moderation in all things—disorder and order both. They ought to balance each other out, not stifle everything else around it.


Moving on, I discovered a clipping I took from the WSJ (September 27, 2007) on anorexia and the fashion industry. It was disturbing on many levels—those suffering from anorexia, those who seem to need to be told that anorexia is disturbing, and the layers of hypocrisy from so many in the fashion industry.

A fashion label had decided to run an ad campaign, using “images of an emaciated 27-year-old woman, nude, with the line, ‘No. Anorexia.’

Already I am disturbed. How is this an ad campaign? How is this supposed to make people want to buy their cloths, to show a naked, starving woman? And what does it mean by “No. Anorexia.” What on earth are assumed to be thinking when we see that? “Gee, I wish I was that skinny”?

The article goes on to say that the managing director who O.K.’ed the ad campaign was shocked when she first saw the photos. Why? What is more shocking about seeing a nekkid anorexic, instead of a scantly clad anorexic walking down the runway? Personally, I’m more appalled by by the scantly clad anorexic on the runway—what kind of sicko wants to have their work “complimented” by starving woman? Clinically, it’s the same body whether it has designer rags on it or not cloths at all on it, and practically speaking, it’s not that much more covered when it’s wearing those things called high fashion. So what exactly is the distinction that makes it shocking when it’s not on the runway?

Someone protested that “This girl needs to bein a hospital, not at the forefront of an advertising campaign” I don’t quite understand how it is presumed this must be mutually exclusive. In my understanding of the article, the woman was fully aware of her anorexia problem, understood what the photos would be used for, and gave her full consent. Two pictures are all that are being used of her; for all I know she was laying in a hospital bed while the ad campaign stirred up fire and brimestone. Again, the thing I find troubling is that someone would find anorexia a desireable way to sell something.

The same person also complained that the campaign “glorifes a woman who is sick and could lead others to be sickly thin because of all the attention.” I am still trying to figure out how a nude, 5 foot 5, 68 lb woman with words ‘No. Anorexia’ counts as “glorifying” anorexia. I understand that anorexia is on display, but there is a big difference between displaying something and glorifying it. One can display something in a glorifying manner, or in a mocking manner, or in a disgusted manner, or in a shocking manner, or in a factual manner, or in a million other different manners. I do feel a good deal of pity who is in such desperate need for attention they would be tempted to starve themselves for it, because they are very miserable people regardless of wether or not they actually get tempted into such things. You don’t need to be anorexic to be starved for unconditional love.

Someone else stated they were bothered because it was being used for commercial purposes. I agree, but so are all the anorexic models, so where, again, is the difference?

Ms. Bertoncello dismissed comments that her company is seeking to profit from a deadly disease. “The campaign sets off an alarm, and it’s a loud one,” she said. “I am happy the ad is being talked about. whether it’s positive or negative, at least the issue is getting some real attention.” Nonetheless, she doesn’t deny that he main purpose of the campaign is to market the Nolita brand and acknowledges that all her models are thin.

Not to bad for a lady who claimed earlier in the same article that the ad “laid bare a hypocrisy that she says still lurks in the fashion wolrd. ‘If you don’t think there is a problem with some of the models working in our industry, then you have blinders on,’ she said in a telephone interview. ‘The fashion industry glorifies sickly thin models and it has to stop.’

It is pretty sick, but I’m not referring to how thin the models are. I’m referring to the people who want models that thin. It’s sick that there has to be organizations trying to restrict hiring anorexics and models—it’s sick that there is a market for people who are or appear to be anorexic.

A designer was qouted,

“I don’t agree with it,” she said. “It’s not something that we need to see—to show that body like that, that’s really sad. That kind of thing is so personal we don’t need to show it—we all know what [anorexia] is, we all know what it looks like. There are so many ways to get the message across without such shock value.”

That’s a mixed bag. I understand what she is saying; I’ve seen gratitious pictures of grief that make me feel the same way. You feel sick someone would intrudes on such personal pain for the sake of a bit of shock value. And I’m sure the guy who developed this campaign was far more interested in shock value than in compassion on those suffering from anorexia.

But on the other hand, it seems to me like she is simply uncomfortable with the hard truth of the matter. That body in that way. Is the only distrubing thing the way “that body” was shown? Would you be happier to see it on a runway in designer rags? Do we know what anorexia looks like? How come? Maybe because we see it walking down the runways all the time? Yes, it is awful to see. Does that automatically make it wrong? Does it mean we shouldn’t ever look at things that show suffering? Should we just pretend that nothing is wrong, that it’s not that big of a deal? Should we whitewash the problem, sanatize, make it all nice and neat and oh-so-much more palatable? Form committes to talk about the problem?

I have a hard time figuring out where all the “shock” is coming from, except maybe that someone just called a spade a spade, pointed out that the emperor has no clothes, so to speak. I understand that maybe lot of designers don’t like the implication that they are doing this to people. Since this anorexic has not been shown as “glamorous” but as the wasted-away human she is, it makes the designers look cruel and heartless and rather sick, instead of edgy, arty, sophisticated. That’s bad for the image of the designers; why would they want to face it up? And I understand how those campaigning against anorexia are upset that this is, after all, meant to be an advertising campaign to generate sales for a clothing company that itself is encouraging anorexia by the very models they choose to hire. That’s sick, too. And I understand being upset that some guy wanted to take picture of a naked anorexic, just to see how much he could stir up the pot.

But I don’t understand why a picture of a naked anorexic is more appalling, upsetting or shocking than those that want people to look like anorexics, than the “designs” that people put on anorexics, or the fact that people in the fashion need to be told that it is upsetting to see starving people being paraded around as clothes hangers for “high fashion”.


And finally, I found a page from the September 27, 2007 WSJ entitled When Bloomers Don’t Cut It. I’m not quite sure why I saved it, except to mock the designer (Graeme Black) who complained “Being too practical is limiting from a design point.” I would like to tell the whiner that any knuckle-head can imgaine alternate universes where perpetual motion devices really can exist; it’s the people with skill who are willing to engage the real world with all of it’s practical restrictions and make something that really works. Practicallity can indeed be a designing challange or difficulty, but I hardly think it needs to be a restriction except for those who only want to play, not work.

Or maybe I wanted to applaud the designer (Tomas Maier) who said “I like a woman who doesn’t actually like overpowering clothes. I want to see her face.” Though the cynic in me can’t help but wonder if maybe he just knows which side his bread is buttered on, and knows how to say the things people want to hear.

To be fair, the article named both designers as some of the rare few who actually designed clothes women might actually want to wear.

And also that 6267 made a big splash for a lot of people; it was also mentioned as designers who made clothes someone might want to wear, and even as being able to get a crowd weary from 12 hours of runway shows to burst into cheers. Actually, probably the biggest sign of how noteworthy 6267 is would be the fact that they even caught my fashion-hating eye. Trust me, no one was more shocked than myself.

Not to overstate the case. I just went and looked through a slideshow of 6267’s September showing, and while there were several long, full skirts that caught my eye, I was largly distracted from paying much attention to the clothes for all of the starving women.

Posted in Contemplations, Design, Fashion | 1 Comment »

Sometime you feel like writing, and sometimes you don't

December 30th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Actually, lately, it hasn’t been so much a lack of wanting to write as a lack of wanting to write about sewing. This surprised me, though it should not have. I always have mulitiple projects started, because after a time I get sick of working on one, and work on something else instead. Why would it be any different with my writing? It’s not a lack of sewing (tangentally) related things to write about, it’s just that I don’t feel like it, for some reason. I expect it will come back, shortly, or at least shortly in the grand scheme of things. It’s beginning already, a bit, I suppose, or I wouldn’t be here tonight.

I don’t have any grand thoughts, but when I was reading the selection for the Essay of the Week, thoughts flited through my head. Here are a few qoutes from the essay, with my emphasis added:

And yet the celebrity architects of the past cannot be equated with those of today. None of them, not even Wright, deliberately cultivated a signature style based on a trademark mannerism, such as Gehry’s fluttering metal membranes or Richard Meier’s palette of bathroom white. Stanford White’s work was superb, remarkably so, but he designed in the common style of his day. The classicism of his Brooklyn Museum cannot easily be distinguished, even by an expert, from that of Carrère & Hastings’s New York Public Library, Whitney Warren’s Grand Central Terminal, or Cass Gilbert’s New York Customs House. The idiosyncrasies of White stamp his personal life, not his buildings, which one would never mistake for a vehicle of personal expression.

The works of a starchitect, by contrast, are poached in the personality of their makers. How this all came to pass is deserving of some careful consideration, for much more is at play here than the mere vulgarizing effects of today’s celebrity culture, where publicity begets more publicity, and no distinction is drawn between accomplishment and notoriety. For until we have an understanding of the nature of the architectural celebrity culture, we cannot know if we should shrug or mourn.

The archetype of the celebrity architect, of course, is Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959). As prodigious as his architectural achievement was, he also permanently changed the American conception of an architect. With him begins the modern image of the architect as free-spirited genius, a part Wright played with relish: decked out in a long cape and cane, and topped by a magnificent mane of flowing white hair, he made his own physical appearance a declaration of imperious authority. Here was the model for a long line of architects who learned that a signature style began in the dressing room, and that one should handle a hairbrush as deftly as an I-beam. (It is notable that this image has far more in common with that of the tempestuous orchestra director than, say, a painter or sculptor.)

His designs did not even seem to be the product of conscious thought, but spontaneous eruptions of life spirit, much like the curses that he continually fired off. “Furness held Louis captivated,” Sullivan wrote, “especially when he drew and swore at the same time.”

To judge from the autobiography, what Furness taught Sullivan was not so much architectural but personal style. From him he learned that a building is “in its nature, essence and physical being an emotional expression,” and that its designer must be in a state of “high and sustained emotional tension.”

The Fountainhead, whatever its literary or philosophical merits, impressed itself deeply on the public mind. It was taken for granted that an architect was not a carpenter-builder who had read some books and learned to draw, as he had been in the nineteenth century; nor was he a scholar who had been to Europe and made measured drawings of the great cathedrals. He was now an autonomous creator, who made “buildings out of his head,” as Sullivan put it, and a growing number of aspiring young architects took this to be essential to the nature of architecture practice.

The central task of architecture has always been what Louis Kahn called “the thoughtful making of space.” The great architects of the past—from Borromini to John Soane to Wright—were makers of distinctive spaces, which were often achieved by ingenious exploitation of structural systems. The melancholy spaces of the Bank of England, for example, were unthinkable without Soane’s use of hollow terra cotta pipes to make vaults and domes of extraordinary lightness, which he deployed as freely as if they were tents.

To the extent that an architect devises a vivid and arresting signature, he is engaged in the business of image-making, which is but one lobe of architecture. The essence of the architectural art is to reconcile plan and construction in a resolved whole, from which both the interior spaces and exterior expression derive with a kind of logical inevitability. But the business of image-making is akin to that of making a theatrical backdrop, which is judged by its graphic qualities, not by the makeshift scaffold of boards that holds it aloft. This is not to say that today’s starchitects are ignorant of technology and its possibilities: Gehry’s brilliant exploitation of computer modeling to create irregular three-dimensional forms is a startling development, creating sculptural possibilities that Borromini would have envied. And a theatrical backdrop, however ingenious the technology that created it, remains a theatrical backdrop.

It is striking how many major American buildings are now being built by Japanese architects, such as Ando, Taniguchi, SANAA, and others, whose work is consistently deft and sober, and often achieve a certain delicate poetry.

Comparing architects to clothing designers is nothing new; many designers themselves draw the same lines, some of them claiming to be “frustrated architects”, whose lives somehow conspired against their achieving their true desire. Reading the essay, it was hard not to see a lot of similarities between modern architects and modern designers.

I was going to try to tie the whole thing together, but I’m a little bit leary of repeating myself. But I have personal pet peeves against people who make a whole new post just to say “look what at what I wrote earlier”, so I shall attempt to make a little new content out of this, even if it is on themes I have discussed before.

To me, this is what I see as being very much a huge problem in the “couture” world—that the creations are not “thoughtful creations of space” working together in a “kind of logical inevitability”, but are rather those ubiquitous signs of notoriety rather than accomplishment. Something becomes valuable not because of any intrinsic use or desireability, but simply because of declarations of imperious authority from those who seem to know about such things because people are too nervous or unsure of themselves.

The design of clothing (as clothing is as an echo of a house; both shelter and cloth the lives of people) has become not so much about skill as about drama. A designer for clothing is not expected to need to know anything about sewing, or the human body or it’s needs. He is merely making clothes out of his head—and it is someone else’s worry how to make the thing exist or work.

The modern architect, of both clothes and houses, can know enough about his materials to torment them in ways in which they were never meant to be—whether it be the clothing that denies it is made of a supple fabric or that it houses a human body within it, or if it be a building that likewise makes humans unwelcomed within it. They seem to be willfully turning their backs on any thought of these structures as being anything more than gratuitous expressions of self.

It may be one thing, I suppose, if they we’re simply designing only the building that they would be living in, and the clothes that only they would be wearing. But it seems rather indecent to sell such things to the general public.

I think it is very sad that it is being reduced to rather garish and over-done backdrops, instead of deft and delicate poetry. The glorification of the few for the unrelenting torment of the many.

Or would you like to buy a pair of Chanel sunglasses, for an absurd price, that are guaranteed to be stylish and fashionable—seeing as they bear the name Chanel?

Posted in Articles, Contemplations | 2 Comments »

Guess who bought Denver Fabrics?

December 16th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

The FAQ at Denver Fabrics has been updated to reflect it’s new owners. Does it look familiar? No? Maybe you’ve never checked the FAQ for this company.

My first clue was that the new promotionals that Denver Fabrics was sending out had a decidedly familiar ring to them. And then I noticed that the layout for the merchandise descriptions seemed really familiar, too. It took very little poking around to make it very obvious. A friend of mine even went so far as to realize that “Denver Fabrics” and “Fashion Fabrics Club” are carrying the exact same stock. It’s nothing more but a different door to the same store.

This is disappointing on several levels. If Denver Fabrics had to sell out, it would have been nice if they could have sold out to someone new to the business. Then at least there would have been a variety of choices. As it is now, it’s just as though they’ve gone out of business—one less choice.

Then there is the sadness of it having to be FFC that bought it. Denver Fabrics had the most wonderful, warm, encouraging, there’s-no-such-thing-as-a-stupid-question customer service. Although I’ve never experienced being treated poorly by the FFC customer service, it has always struck me as cold and uncaring. I have always been loathe to contact them, and always felt like it would just be a bother because I wouldn’t get any help from them anyway.

There is also the sadness that Denver Fabrics used to highly recommend swatches, and tried very hard to get people to use them. FFC refuses any kind of sampling except buying 1/8th of yard and charges so much for shipping that 1/8th of yard—$4.95, to be exact—that one is strongly discouraged from buying swatches. This leads to many dissappointing purchases.

There is also the problem that FFC is very inconsistent in it’s quality. I could feel confident in buying anything from Denver Fabrics, knowing that they only sold quality stuff I’d be glad to have. Even just seeing the swatch sets that FFC sends out to it’s club members (they choose the fabric that gets swatched, not you) has taught me there is a lot of ugly polyester in the world. I recently bought two pieces of wool from FFC. The both had similar decriptions—they were wool flannel, though one piece was “brushed” and the other was “denim weave” on the back.

The first piece was so “brushed” it’s nap was so pronounced as to almost appear as a “fake fur” (but it felt a lot better!) It was supple and soft. It prewashed up beautifully (I used tepid water and dishsoap).

The other piece was coarse, and stiffer than polyester felt. It leaked dye all over the place as soon as water touched it. And after sending about 6 bathtubs full of emerald green water down the drain, it continued to leak dye. It is now pretty much worthless to me, because I don’t care how many times they “recommend” dry cleaning wool, I’m not going to sew up anything I can’t clean myself.

That made smoke pour out of my ears, I can tell you. If they had sold me plain white wool, I could have dyed it much more color fast myself, and gotten the same (or better) color to boot. I have done enough dying of wool to consider it “not dyed” when as soon as you plunge it into water it releases all of it’s dye. They have utterly no excuse. It was a cruddy, cheap piece of work.

Now how will I be able to tell the difference? Some wool that FFC sells is good. Some is not. Both pieces I bought were the exact same price. It turns into a blind guessing game. Unless you’re willling to pay $5 for the privilidge of finding out it’s a worthless fabric.

I’d really rather just shop some place that sold quality fabric, and had a consistent stock. Let me know if you know of such a place.

Posted in Contemplations, Dyeing, Merchants, Websites | No Comments »

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