No Wardrobe is an Island

Thoughts on MMM’16

I wanted to give myself a real challenge this Me-Made-May, and I succeeded! I decided to endeavour (love that British usage) to wear only clothes I’ve made for the month, with a few exceptions noted at the beginning: socks, jackets, and raincoat. Trying to follow through with this plan made for my most thought provoking MMM in several years.

At the beginning, I felt liberated. Even though I’ve pledged to wear mostly me-made the last couple of Mays, getting by on only MM stuff felt like cutting a cord (despite the deliberate exceptions). I was not just making do with scraps thrown my way, but existing on only what I had made from whole cloth.

It also occurred to me that wearing clothes I didn’t make is anonymous—it’s not satisfying, but sometimes it’s a welcome cloak of invisibility.

As May began and the weather stayed cold at home, I found I missed some fairly ridiculous parts of my non-MM wardrobe—notably the big shapeless thrifted wool sweater I’d been throwing on over my PJs for tea and yoga first thing in the morning. I guess some kind of large, warm, not at all precious, natural-fiber layer is now an essential wardrobe component for me in cool weather …

On the 5th I realized that my plan had totally failed to account for days when I really needed to just wear grubby work clothes. Although an oversight, because my life definitely does have those days, I didn’t feel bad about it. It’s conceivable that one day my clean-the-truck clothes might be all old me-mades … but that day is not here yet, and that’s fine with me.

 

05mmm16

I did make two of these items …

We hit the road for two art shows in the DC area about a week in, as we have done for the last few years. This time, it was cold (like record-setting, 25 degrees colder than normal cold) and rainy practically the whole time we were there. I had enough me-made layers, I just wore them over and over …

 

21mmm16

A typical show-day outfit. I’m wearing my favorite cashmere top, the upcycled sweater, a jacket, and a raincoat. I was going to roll up one pant leg so you could see that I’m also wearing wool leggings underneath, but I forgot.

 

Then after travel and the first show, I totally ran out of clean pants. I discovered I would rather break my pledge and wear an old pair of Bryan’s than freeze in a skirt, especially since we were going for a walk in Rock Creek Park. I also discovered that I am really used to custom fit, especially in waistbands. Any places that rub or sit wrong seem totally unacceptable. This is probably a sign that I could not go back to ready to wear—even if I wanted to.

I wore the “Me-Made-May” badge on my bag or clothing almost every day—and didn’t get asked about it once. But still I hope that some folks saw it and were curious. I also wore the “I MADE this” badge a few times (attached to something I made and was wearing). That one is more direct, and when I wore it I got comments and/or questions from friends, acquaintances, and waitresses, which was great! But I also discovered that I’m just not up for being the face of the handmade movement whenever I’m out in public. I’m naturally a shy person, and with the added stresses of travel, being in strange places, and dealing with whatever came up, a lot of days it was just not happening. While, for whatever reason, having the MMM one on felt fine.

 

19mmm16

If you made a badge and didn’t see a comment from me about it, please leave me a message here or tag me on Instagram—I’d love to see them, and I was in no way keeping up with all the hashtags last month!

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how making my own choices is wonderful, but it’s not enough. I also need to find ways to share more of those choices with larger communities. (Some things that are pushing my thoughts that way: this post from Jess on Wardrobe Ecology, and this amazing interview with Rebecca Solnit from On Being.) I’d like to continue to explore ways I can make a more public statement, without feeling like I’m “on stage” too much of the time. And I’d still like to wear the “I MADE this” badge from time to time … we’ll see what happens!

Overall, as the month went on, I realized another important thing: I don’t really want to make my whole wardrobe. Don’t get me wrong—I’d like to be capable of making whatever I need to wear. But as far as the actual content of my closet at any given time, I don’t want that to exist in a vacuum of only self-made, any more than I think any of us can really live a good life without friends and community to belong to. I know it’s vital to have friends along the way—people who give us a place to rest our heads, deep conversations and connections, and sometimes a place to dry out our tents in their back yard. I want to celebrate that as the joy and blessing it is. In sort of a similar way, I also want to celebrate the special parts of my wardrobe that I didn’t make, especially those made or given to me by folks I love.

 

31mmm16

The last day of #mmm16, with our irises having a great year.

 

So, a lot to think about! As always I’m grateful to Zoe for putting this on, and for all her encouragement! It really is a great time to pause and reexamine life through the lens of what we make and wear, and I’m glad it happens every year because I wouldn’t go to the trouble all by myself! Between now and next May, I’ll be thinking about more ways to share my love of handmade without freaking myself out, and how to celebrate my mostly-me-made wardrobe with a pledge that reflects where I’d like it to go.

How about you? Anyone who hasn’t already shared their thoughts from MMM on a myriad of other platforms is welcome to do so here … In the meantime I hope you’re all enjoying the start of summer! (It went from cold straight to hot for us, but, I’ll take it!)

 

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Solved: Leggings

 

The best thing about making a pledge or taking a challenge may be that it pushes us to find out what’s possible if we stay within certain boundaries. For example: this winter, I found myself in need of some new warm leggings, and a couple of challenges I had in one form or another meant I needed to be creative about how I got them. The results were so good—almost certainly better than whatever I would have come up with without the challenge.

 

upcycled leggings 1

 

One of my wardrobe goals is to have enough of the right clothes for winter so that I’m cozy (in other words not always cold and therefore slightly grouchy). For the coldest months, it turns out that means wearing an extra warm layer under pants or a long skirt pretty much every day. I’ve already figured out that wool and silk are much warmer than cotton knits (plus I love everything else about wool). I’m still following my fabric-buying pledge from #1year1outfit (until a full year has gone by this summer), which meant I couldn’t hop online and order lovely wool fabrics from New Zealand, even if they are organic. There are a few totally beautiful made-in-USA wool knits out there, but let’s be honest, I also have a budget. I can’t afford to splurge on every project, and I don’t want to for something like this where I frankly don’t care too much what it looks like, as long as it feels good and works well.

I was thinking about going to the thrift store for something else, and somehow I got the idea that maybe if I found a big enough fine-gauge men’s sweater, I could make leggings out of that. Such, such a good idea!

My layout works like this: I cut off the waistband of the sweater, including a little bit above it for seam allowance, and save it for the waistband of the leggings. I flip the sweater inside out and trim off the seams as closely as I can to separate the front from the back. (After making so many hats from reclaimed cashmere, I am an expert at deconstructing sweaters.) Then I remove the sleeves, in this case leaving the sleeve seams intact as much as possible. The front and back often have fairly different shapes (and a lot of times different grainlines) so I separate them completely at the shoulders after the sleeves are off, and cut from them separately. I cut the top potion of the leggings pattern from the front and back of the sweater, however they best fit. The lower leg comes from the sleeves, utilizing the sleeve cuff as the ankle.

 

sweater to leggings drawing

 

I used the same Espresso Leggings pattern as my first custom fit pair—there’s no going back from custom fit! The lower arm of the sweater was actually a little smaller than the original cuff on my pattern, but it stretched to fit over my ankle just fine. I laid the folded leg pattern over the sleeve, and started to cut where the leg became smaller than the sleeve.

For sewing, I joined the lower leg to the upper leg flat, pressed the seam open, and sewed down the seam allowances for a non-bulky join. Just don’t forget to add a seam allowance to the upper and lower leg when you’re cutting.

As I sewed the inside leg seams, I just merged my seamline into the original seam of the sleeve when I got to that point.

 

upcycled leggings 2

 

Working on these, I thought a lot about stretch and recovery in knits. All the sweaters I used had about the same horizontal stretch as the fabric I bought for the very first pair; with 4” stretching to about 7”, or 1.75%, so I could use the same size pattern. The sweaters had almost no vertical stretch though, which made the first pair of sweater-cut leggings feel a bit shorter on top than I wanted, so I slashed the pattern and added ¼” vertically above and below the crotch point.

I ended up cutting the ribbing for waistband much shorter than the top of the leggings, since it could stretch much further. The ribbing alone wasn’t quite enough to hold the leggings up, although I loved how it looked. For the charcoal pair, I added wide elastic on top (it may possibly have come off a pair of Bryan’s boxers with worn fabric). This holds up the leggings no problem. The elastic has the recovery needed, but it actually won’t stretch as far as the ribbing, so I had to cut it a little longer. This can make the waist look a little wrinkly by itself, but it all stretches out smooth on the body.

For the second blue/periwinkle pair, I wanted to see if I could use slightly less wide/firm elastic, so I tried some of the bra-band kind from my stash, which is soft on one side, inside the ribbing. That works too, leggings stay up with no problem.

 

upcycled leggings 3

 

The third green sweater had a narrow hem instead of ribbing at the waist. I decided to use that as a casing for narrow elastic, cutting two sections from the waistband and catching the elastic in the seams. After wearing this pair a couple of times, the jury is still out on whether it could use slightly wider elastic/more pull inside the casing … but if so it would be easy enough to unpick the little vertical seams at the top and sew it in.

 

upcycled leggings 4

 

Overall, I’m super happy with how these turned out! I answered a few leftover questions from the first-ever pair; like would elastic be enough to hold them at the low-waist level I like (a resounding yes!) and would they work in 100% wool (a big yes again!). Despite the fact that the pattern recommends fabrics with Lycra or Spandex, I like the all-wool version much better (the green and grey pairs are Merino, and the periwinkle is cashmere). These float like a warm soft cloud just touching my skin. They feel amazing and don’t bind in any way. If I were dancing on stage in them, I might care that the knees look a little baggy by the end of the day, but since these are under-layers only, I don’t at all.

So I’m officially set on leggings for a few winters at least! We’ll see how these hold up. They should be fairly easy to patch if needed, since I have the pattern and scraps. I consider the used sweaters a sustainable material source, especially since I can utilize ones that have small stains or holes in them (the little stitched leaves on the green pair are covering former holes in the original sweater). Making leggings this way keeps me within my pledge and my budget. Plus they’re awesome.

If you want to try this, go for it! For my fairly-small-but-very-pair-shaped figure, I need to start with a men’s extra-large sweater to cut the pieces as illustrated. Of course, you can patchwork them a little more if needed. The green sweater was in really good shape (except for the holes), so I got it even though it was a little smaller. I ended up piecing in wedges at the inner thigh to make up for not having quite enough width across the sweater body. It worked fine, but it was a little mind-bending to make sure all the pieces had the right shape and seam allowance, so I don’t recommend it for your first try.

Happy stitching!

 

upcycled leggings 5

 

Me-Made-May and Putting My Best Self Forward

 

mmm15 sleep top 2

Hi guys!  This year I’ve decided to give myself a harder challenge for Me-Made-May, and it’s definitely leading to some good thoughts about how dressing handmade pushes me towards making and wearing more of what really reflects me and how I’d like to be seen, rather than just wearing what I happen to have.

I wrote a piece about all this for Zoe, the lovely host of mmmay, and it’s on her blog today, so do head over there if you’d like to read more about what I’ve been thinking and making (the top at left) in preparation for May.  Here’s my pledge for this year:

“I, Tasha of Stale Bread into French Toast, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’15. I endeavour to wear only garments I have made, altered, or repaired, for the duration of May 2015. The only purposeful exception will be my raincoat, which isn’t any of the above, but I will definitely wear if the need arises. Everything else is included!”  Gulp!

There’s still time to sign up and participate yourself, I highly recommend it, and you can make a pledge no matter how many or few handmade things you have to wear … I hope you’ll do it with me!

 

Me-Made-May, My Wardrobe, and Drawing

Plus, I pledge to knit a sweater!

 

mmm14 logo drawing

 

So, you guys know I love Me-Made-May, right?  This challenge was a major motivator for me to start really building a handmade wardrobe, especially two years ago, the first year I had this blog and the first year I took part.  Last year, I upped my challenge to wearing two me-made garments every day through May, which was great and gave me a kick in the bum to make at least one thing I had been thinking about for quite a while, but it didn’t have quite the feeling of realizing new things about what I make and wear, and opening up new horizons, which the first year did.

This time, I’d like to bring back a bit of the self-discovery element.  Also, documenting my MMM has been a challenge, we’re usually on the road during much of the month, and it can be hard to find a time when Bryan and I are both not busy to take a picture.  Plus, I am always looking for ways to bully myself into doing more drawing, just practicing drawing … so I’m going to keep a mini visual journal (pictured above) for May.  I’m leaving the exact format of what I’ll put in it purposefully vague, to see how it works out, but it will definitely include drawings of clothing, words about what I wore and thought, etc.  I’ll photograph and post at least some of what I put in it on Flickr and/or here.

 

mmm'13 day 11-1And, about the sweater.  I’ve had this particular soft blue silk and cashmere cardigan since I started traveling with Bryan.  I got it at a clothing exchange/naked lady party right before we left that first summer, so really, it’s held up amazingly well, that was 10 years ago (egad—really?) and it’s been an indispensable summer wardrobe item that whole time.  I’m wearing it at left, in a pic from MMM last year.  It doesn’t have another summer in it though, the fabric under the arms and around the cuffs is totally shot.

I do have some light blue yarn, which has been in my stash longer than I care to remember, and it occurred to me that, in the spirit of making my own, I could knit a replacement sweater.  It won’t be exactly the same, in fact I would like the style of it to be a little more interesting, but it must have the following characteristics, which I figure are key to indispensable-ness: soft, lightweight, cardigan (easy to layer), washable (at least by hand), go with most of my wardrobe.  I’m thinking of starting with the Talamh pattern (links to Ravelry).

Here is my official pledge for Me-Made-May ’14:

‘I, Tasha of Stale Bread into French Toast, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’14. I endeavour to wear as many me-made and handmade items each day as possible, minimum of two, for the duration of May 2014.  In addition, I pledge to keep a wardrobe journal for May, and to share it via flickr/blog.  And finally, I will knit on, and attempt to finish, a much-needed sweater during this month!’

If you’re thinking about taking part, I definitely encourage you to do it!

 

A New Month, A New Challenge – Spark Your Summer

The thing I love about setting a particular goal or participating in a challenge is that it can push me to take something I am vaguely thinking about doing and make it something I am actually doing and concretely thinking about.

I loved participating in Me Made May’12 this last month.  I was surprised by how much pride and self-sufficiency I felt wearing at least one me-made garment every day, even though I didn’t make anything new for the challenge!  It also got me thinking about what I really wear and how I want my style to evolve.  Although I’m not sure I would want to spend as much time thinking about my wardrobe all the time as I did in May, it really pushed me to better define my style (see this post), to figure out what I really need to make (pants!), and to meet some other sewers/thinkers/bloggers, all of which has been wonderful.  In another unexpected spillover, after MMM ended I found myself coming up with new combinations of my not-self-made clothes to better fit my style – bonus!

 

 

So when my new friend Alessa, along with Ali and Sarah, announced a new challenge for June, I was pretty much in at the word go.  Plus, this one is a little less involved, you just sew one special garment in June, something you’d like to wear all summer.  It’s good timing for me, since I have fabric I batik dyed last summer that’s supposed to become a dress in time for a special event which starts June 20!  I’ll be making my self-drafted sundress, with a few modifications from the first one.  And, I’ll be home late tonight!!  One thing I have really missed during MMM is my studio – sewing starts tomorrow!

 

 

Again, it seems to me that there’s no reason you have to sew to set yourself a helpful challenge for this month.  What about a cooking one?  An art one?  What are your broader goals and how can you set a specific goal to help you get there?  What would you like to do more of?  Why not set aside a specific amount of time for that every week?  Whatever you decide to do, I’d be willing to bet you’ll get some unexpected lovely side effects.

Me-Made-May 2012!

What is that, you ask?  It’s a fabulous idea from Zoe of the blog ‘So, Zo…’ wherein participants make a pledge to wear one or more self-made garments every day for the month of May, and/or to interpret the challenge in their own way.

 

 

What I really love about it is the idea of spending a month thinking about what we make and wear and why.  Does what you wear suit your personality and what you want to say about yourself to the world?  Why do you choose to make things?  Do you wear/use the things you make?

My pledge for May is to wear at least one thing I made everyday, and document my experience here in a way that’s also relevant to those of you who don’t sew, and addresses some of the interesting questions above.

If you do sew, I encourage you to head on over to Zoe’s blog and check it out!

If not, what about coming up with your own Me-Made-May challenge?  Maybe pledge to cook one new recipe or make one up yourself each week, or finish your woodworking project, or even the mending!  I think anything we make has the tendency to push us towards, as Zoe puts it “a more self-sufficient, sustainable and authentic life.”  I love that phrase – I couldn’t have described my own goals better!

The last part of my personal pledge for MMM’12 is to make more friends in the blog world and reach out to the other creative types out here, so I’d love it if you let me know your ideas, and pass on the spirit of Me-Made-May!