Slow(er) Fashion is for Everyone

decoration spool 1

A start-where-you-are, one-step-at-a-time, use-what-you-have, guide.

Here we are in Slow Fashion October again! It kind of snuck up on me, actually; we just got home from traveling for shows, and if it were any other challenge/focus for the month, I probably would have just let it go. But not this one—it’s too close to the heart of what I think is important. I remember last year being amazed at how articulate and thoughtful everyone was being around these topics on Instagram. As I sat down to write an introduction to where I’m at this year, I surprised myself with how much I cared about what I was writing, and the idea for this post sprang into my head.

I almost didn’t write it though. It just feels too big. I’ll never cover it all, and I’ll leave out things that are important … which I probably will. But it turns out I care more about what I want to say than about how I might screw it up, so here goes.

It bothers me when people complain about the idea of Slow Fashion being elitist or exclusive, because to me at the center it’s about buying less, and being more thoughtful. It’s about the power of choice, and the fact that every single choice makes a difference, whether or not it’s a difficult or expensive choice. It starts with small steps that almost everyone can absolutely do, today, and if we all moved just a little bit toward Slower Fashion, it would mean a massive shift in the way the fashion industry operates.

These steps are roughly in order of difficulty. Each one has actions (readily available things we can all do) and ways to level up (which are more involved and could also make a bigger difference), plus notes for those of us who already make part/most/all of our own clothes.

In case you are still wondering what all this is about or why the heck you should care (but miraculously still reading), I invite you to check out this article about how our level of clothing consumption has reached the point of totally overwhelming any market for secondhand clothes.

One last thing before we start: although I’ve tried my best to keep this list simple and actionable, trust me, I know it can seem like these are humongous problems, way too overwhelming for any one person. But I can honestly say that the deeper I dig, the more I come through the uncomfortable feelings into a space where I feel better about myself, and what I’m making and wearing, and even about my place in the world. Each of these actions, even the ones that seem simplest, can have ripple effects into the rest of our lives as well, making things seem just a little bit slower and saner. Taking it slower has been such a healthy and fulfilling choice for me on quite a few levels.

 

refashioning scraps

 
 

1. Buy Less

This step is available to anyone who is buying clothes, anywhere, and has a budget for anything more than the bare necessities. If everyone did only this—nothing more than being more thoughtful about what we bring into our closets—it would be a true fashion revolution. Opting out of the constant consumerism which is so much a part of our economy that it’s also part of our culture is a big deal.

Actions:
Before you purchase an item of clothing, ask yourself some of these questions:
Do I need this?
Can I see myself wearing this frequently? Does it go with what’s already in my closet?
When I look at this, what message does it send? Is that the message I want people to get when they see me?
Do I need this many?
Is this so cheaply made, or so trendy, that it won’t last me very long?
Am I shopping for something I really need, or is this “retail therapy”?

Level Up:
Try to buy pieces that will last longer, either because of more timeless style and/or more quality materials and construction. Instead of buying several cheaper pieces, wait and use the same funds towards one better quality item.
Unsubscribe from emails/newsletters/magazines etc. that make you think you always need more and promote seasonal “must have” items. If you enjoy shopping and contemplating your wardrobe, you might try a project like the Wardrobe Architect (designed for makers, but with exercises that work whether you make or buy most of your clothes) that encourages thinking about and honing a personal expression of style, rather than following trends.

For Makers:
I would not encourage you to be less creative, or spend less time using your hands and your favorite tools. However, it’s all too easy to switch from consuming finished goods to consuming materials, with as little thought to their origin and future usefulness. The same questions above can apply to fabric and yarn, or to potential makes. If you should find yourself in the enviable position of having already made everything you need, consider learning a new skill, taking on a longer/slower project, and/or making something for someone else who can really use it. Check out the very thoughtful Stash Less series for a lot of exploration of the emotional reasons we stock up our stashes, and ways to avoid doing it.

 

sw sweater palette

 
 

2. Care for Your Clothes

If we started treating our clothes like things we cared about, instead of disposable items, that would be another big cultural shift with big, positive ripple effects.

Actions:
Wash clothes only when they need it. When washing, soak clothes longer and agitate less. This may require turning off your washer and setting a timer to remind you to turn it back on. Use the delicate cycle.
Hand-wash. It’s ridiculously easy (and also saves money and chemicals if your alternative is dry cleaning). I wrote about my favorite method in this article for Seamwork.
Use a clothesline or a dying rack. It lets your clothes last longer (by saving the abrasion of the dryer) as well as saving energy.

Level Up:
Mend. Everyone should know how to sew on a button and do simple repairs. There’s no shame if you don’t though, as these skills have been largely abandoned. Luckily, they’ve been replaced by the internet, where you can find people willing to help you with almost anything (including right here on this site). There are even challenges and forums that focus on mending, like #visiblemending and #menditmay. Some locations also have in-person repair events (a fantastic idea)—check your local listings.

For Makers:
One of the benefits I’ve found of having a more handmade wardrobe is that it encourages me to take the best care of those clothes so they’ll last as long as possible. I’m not always the best about extending that care to my non-handmade clothes, or my husband’s non-handmade clothes … but that’s a step I could and should take.
Teaching your friends simple mending is another way to make a difference, and darning socks is way more fun in groups. Why not organize your own mending event?

 

What is that thing on the right anyway?  Not sure, a rug maybe?

 
 

3. Consider Origins & Life Cycles

This is where it gets sticky, but we’ll end with some hope. Acknowledging that the way most companies make clothes now does harm to the environment and/or to other humans, and that by buying those clothes (or that fabric) we are complicit in that harm, feels bad I know. But I also think that we have to know where we are in order to move on and make better choices. The other hard part is that this is where the choices get narrower. Clothes that are produced more sustainably and with fair labor practices are more expensive than clothes that aren’t, because the ones that aren’t are carrying a bunch of hidden costs we aren’t paying in money—but we are paying them in environmental damage and bad conditions for workers. As we hopefully move towards a more sustainable fashion future, it will almost certainly mean all of us buying fewer clothes, and paying more for them. I hope that we can navigate this transition with fairness both to the people making the clothes (and the ecosystems that produce the raw materials) and to the people buying them, but I definitely don’t have all the answers here.
Here are the icky facts: synthetic fibers (like polyester & nylon) are made from the same stuff plastic is: oil and tar … plus increasing evidence shows that just washing these fibers releases tiny synthetic bits that make their way all the way into oceans and the food chain. Most chemical dyes are toxic, and few of the countries where fabrics are now produced have good enough environmental regulations to prevent them being released into waterways and harming human health. Most yarns and fabrics are also treated with other harmful chemicals (bleach, agents that change the hand or finish, etc.) before they come to us. If, as that article on textile waste states, there is enough of these chemicals left in our garments once they reach the landfill to leach into the groundwater, surely they are also leaching into the wash water, and probably onto our skin.
Now that you’re thoroughly freaked out, may I remind you to take this one step at a time, and do the parts that seem achievable today. Some of this is subjective, or depends more on the individual case. Is it better to buy polyester made from recycled pop bottles, or non-organic cotton? I don’t know either … but I’m making my way as best I can.

Actions:
Choose natural fibers. I’ve been making this choice for a long time, out of personal preference and knowing that they wear better than synthetics, but knowing about the micro-fibers in the ocean cements this one for me. Even if they are treated with chemicals, biodegradable fibers usually find an easier place in the ecosystem.
Buy quality whenever you can. Pieces that last longer save resources.
Buy secondhand.
When buying new, buy things produced in countries with good labor practices and environmental regulations (such as the one you live in?) whenever you can.
If you can afford a couple of really special, locally made, responsibly sourced items of clothing (or the materials to make them), please buy them! But if you can’t, your choices still make a difference.
Pass on unwanted clothes responsibly.

Level Up: (Most of this boils down to research.)
Consider raw materials individually. For example, it takes less water and fewer pesticides to grow linen or hemp than cotton.
Choose minimally processed, low-impact dyed, and certified organic fabrics if at all possible. Look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label, which covers all stages of production. I’m not going to lie, these can be hard to find, and looking for them puts you in danger of being labeled a hippie. Nevertheless, more mainstream brands are starting to offer organic options, especially for cotton. (I found GOTS certified sheets at Target this year, very reasonably priced.)
Buy from brands that have a commitment to fair labor. Often these brands are concerned about the environment as well, so starting with either one can lead to both. The more questions we ask, the better. Searching for “ethical fashion” will give you a bunch of places to start.
Organize a clothing swap with your friends (this is an especially good way to pass on handmade/special items you aren’t using, and make sure they get a home with someone who will appreciate them).
Look for charities near you that can actually use your old clothes, and donate there.

For Makers:
You know the bad news here already: making something yourself does not erase the environmental or labor impact of the materials you’re using. The good news is: it’s easier to find responsibly made materials than finished clothes, and the more of the process you’re doing yourself (i.e. knitting or spinning your own) the more available and reasonably priced those materials tend to be. I have a list of sources for more sustainable fabrics, and there’s a good roundup of resource lists from the end of Slow Fashion October last year. It seems there are more American-made, domestically-spun yarns every time I turn around, which is a great thing! I know the local wool movement is also going strong in Britain, and probably other places as well …

 

TOCMC cotton 4

Photo courtesy of Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Co-op

 
 

4. Make

Making your own clothes is the final frontier of fashion independence, and opens up a new world of choices, both stylistically and in materials (new and repurposed). If these are skills you aspire to, start with small, doable projects (ahem, mending) and get a feel for the tools and materials. You’ll be able to grow your skills quickly, especially if you can find a good mentor/teacher.

Actions:
Try a new skill, like knitting or sewing. There are about a million tutorials and friendly folks online if you can’t find someone to help you in person. If you can, you’ll get a head start. Look for classes or ask crafty friends. Be patient with yourself, especially if you’re not used to working with your hands. New skills take practice, but they’re so worth it.

Level Up:
Already knit or sew? Try spinning! I’m only a little bit kidding. Spinning is aaaamazing, and perhaps the ultimate expression of slow fashion.
Learn any other new skill you’ve wanted to try. Leatherwork? Natural dyeing? Each one only increases the possibilities of what you could make, and for me at least, feeds into the creative whole with new ideas.

For Makers:
Help the new makers!

 

cartoon with both threaded small

 

So, I hope you’re convinced that you don’t have to run out and get a sheep and start from scratch in order to make a difference. (But if you want to do that, I totally have your back!)

I’d welcome your thoughts, resources, notes about things I forgot … take care everyone!

 

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Origins, Materials, and Connections

 

This spring, I explored cotton growing in the US—I interviewed organic farmers in Texas, read some fascinating history, and pulled seeds out of a cotton boll to try spinning them myself. Most of that research went into an article for Seamwork, which comes out today. It also ties in well with what I’ve been thinking about around the one Year, one Outfit project, which was the reason I bought local(ish) cotton fabric in the first place, and got curious about where it came from. I’m coming up on a full year since I jumped into that project, and I’d like to talk a little more personally here about what I’ve gotten out of it so far.

For #1year1outfit I pledged to buy new fabric only if it was made in the US, and the fiber was organically grown or otherwise considered sustainable. It’s easy to see a choice like that as restrictive, claustrophobic, or even self-righteous. But like a lot of similar times, I found that I was more creative because of the limitations I had set. I learned a lot, because the project encouraged me to look more deeply into everything from the environmental impacts of textile production to what it’s like to be a cotton farmer. But the best thing I got out of it was a feeling of connectedness and participation with the people, plants and animals that make what I do possible.

 

TOCMC cotton 1

I’d like to sincerely thank Kelly Pepper of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, who was so helpful in connecting me with farmers, answering questions, and also lent me the use of more great photos of cotton growing than I could use for the article. All photos in this post are courtesy of TOCMC.

 

I read Environmental Impact of Textiles by Keith Slater (borrowed through interlibrary loan). It was full of statistics and graphs as I expected, but also contained insights about the contrast between processing fibers by hand and by machine that I didn’t expect at all. Slater points out that tools for turning fiber into fabric by hand are relatively easy to make, and often operate on human power, burning little or no carbon in the process. Selecting the best quality fibers by hand takes more time and so is more costly, but it results in a better product, less waste, and less energy used. In contrast, the machinery needed to process fibers (“millions of tiny particles of flexible units”) at the speed necessary to satisfy demand must be “massive, complex, and expensive,” use huge amounts of energy, be environmentally costly to make, and concentrate the impacts of production (from noise to waste) in one place.

I learned that one of the most environmentally problematic areas in textile production is dyeing and printing (as well as other chemicals used in manufacturing and finishing fabrics). Most of these substances are toxic and/or carcinogenic, especially the first synthetic dyes developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, and used to be released freely into waste water. Thankfully, at least in the developed world, we now have regulations to protect our water and our textile workers, as well as some less-harmful dyes that have been developed more recently.

Textile production is a relatively small part of worldwide manufacturing and resulting environmental impacts, totaling less than 1% according to Slater, including transportation, machinery, and everything else he could find to calculate. Still it’s an area where we, the consumers, have a lot choice in what we buy, and I believe, we can have a big impact.

Ultimately, what I took away is that nothing comes from “the store,” or goes “away” when we’re done with it, even though our consumer culture very much wants us to believe that it does. Everything has an origin, and is part of a cycle of people and things that includes us, whether we’re aware of the rest of it or not. I want to know my place in that cycle, and respect the other participants in it—both the humans and the animals and plants, the communities and soils that make my life possible.

 

TOCMC cotton 2

 

I just finished reading an amazing book by Robin Wall Kimmerer called Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s kind of heartbreaking, actually, since she spells out what we in the Western world and in the US specifically have done to both the native peoples and the native landscape, and it’s inescapably tragic. But, she also offers a lot of hope, and a vision of how the world could be if we behaved as though we were part of it, participating in and nurturing the ecosystems around us, instead of pretending that we’re somehow separate from the rest of the universe. Of all the beautiful, powerful, potentially life-changing books I’ve read in the last year or two, this is the one I most wish everyone would read, the one that I think might be have the most potential to move hearts into action.

Braiding Sweetgrass reinforced my belief that our choices matter, the little things matter, and also that so very often when we do the best we can for the world around us, it ends up being the best thing for us too, bringing more joy and connectedness to our lives. I believe that a big part of the satisfaction which many of us feel is missing from our lives comes from a lack of participation with the world around us, and that part of how we can bring ourselves into a healthy relationship with the universe we belong to is to participate in its natural cycles as makers and creators. To me, this is the best part of using local and traceable materials; I can visualize the system I’m part of, the fields and farmers who grew the fiber that I’m now sewing and wearing.

 

TOCMC cotton 3

 

After this experience, I can’t go back to using anonymous, supposedly source-less materials—it would just feel so hollow. My year of #1year1outfit is over, but I’ve been changed by this project, by realizing the deeper connections that are possible. Although I may want to work with fabrics or yarns that no one is making near me (or even in the US), I can’t see myself choosing anything that I don’t know how and where it was made, that I can’t picture how it connects me to other hands, and fields, and creatures.

When I started this project, figuring out where my materials came from and tracing things back to the source seemed daunting and confusing. And it’s still true that taking any finished product (even fabric) and figuring out who made it can be nearly impossible. At this point, I’m looking at it more from the other side: what do I know is being made well, and what can I do with it? I’m looking for materials available with origins I trust, and they seem like more than enough to fuel my creativity for quite a while.

 

A few more Resources:

Through TOCMC I found out about Adele Stafford who is doing amazing work hand-weaving and making garments with US fibers, and writing so poetically about it at Voices of Industry.

Sally Fox has been experimenting with growing naturally colored cotton and biodynamic agriculture since the 1980s. She has fabric and yarn at FoxFibre, and pictures on Instagram.

My list of sources for sustainable fabrics is here.

The fabric I printed for one Year, one Outfit is here, the skirt I made from it is here.

 

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!)

 

Tips and Ideas for Sewing Cover Buttons, DIY and Store-Bought

 

diy sewing cover buttons 1

 

As I mentioned in my knitted cover button post, I got into some online research on DIY cover buttons, and I couldn’t resist making up a couple of sewn ones.  Special thanks to Sophie of Ada Spragg for pointing me towards Ebony H’s tutorial for fabric covered buttons on SewStylist!  I love the idea of covering existing buttons, and especially that you can sew through them.  But, I’m kind of a purist, I like things clean, and held together with needle and thread alone.  And I had some more ideas … so, below is my version.

If you’d rather use a cover button kit from the fabric store (I do this a lot too), scroll down (way down) towards the bottom of the post, and I’ll include my favorite tips for those as well.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Measuring & planning the button front

Draw around your button with a fine-point marker.  It’s easiest to use one that erases with water or air, but if you don’t have that, you can use any regular marker that won’t show through your fabric, just keep all markings on the wrong side of the button.  Draw another circle outside the button outline—this is the fabric that will wrap around the button to the back.  It should be just a little smaller (about 1/8″ or 3mm smaller) than the thickness of your button plus half its width.  If your button is bigger, you can have more of a gap in the fabric at the middle of the back.  For these little buttons, I wanted as much fabric on the back as I could get without it bunching up in the middle, so that it has the best chance of staying in place and not fraying as I sew it.  Mark the distance you want outside the button outline at several points, then connect them to make an outer circle.  (This picture also shows the markings for the back piece, which we’ll get to later.)

 

diy sewing cover buttons 2

 

Embroidery (optional of course)

If you’d like to add any embellishments, it’s easier to work them before you cut out the fabric pieces.  I was inspired by this post on The Purl Bee, but decided I’d rather have simple stitching.  I think this would look great if you used the same thread as the topstitching on your project.

Since I used a water-erasable pen, I could stitch on the same side as the marks, following the button outline.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 3

 

Once I was done with my embroidery, I caught the thread ends in the stitching on the wrong side, and trimmed them off.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 4

 

Sew & gather the button front

Cut out your fabric circle.  Then sew a line of running stitches around the edge, around 1/8″ or 3mm inside the cut edge.  Ordinarily I’d use matching thread for this, but as you’ll see, it won’t show, so use contrasting if it’s easier to see.  Start with a knot, or leave a long tail so you can pull on both ends of the thread when you’re done.  The smaller you make the stitches, the easier it will be to pull your gathers in tight.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 5

 

diy sewing cover buttons 6

 

Time to pull the gathers around your button.  At this point it occurred to me that I needed to get the button wet at some point to erase the marker, and it might be easier to manipulate the gathers if the fabric was damp.  It totally was!  So I highly recommend spritzing your fabric with a little water before you cinch it around the button.  This should work for all natural fibers.

Pull the gathers in tight.  Use your thumbnail or an awl, etc. to redistribute any gathers that are bunching up.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 7

 

Once the gathers are set how you’d like them, stitch around the back, a bit inside the edge, with a series of backstitches to hold them in place.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 8

 

The button back

I wanted another fabric piece to cover all these raw edges on the back.  To make one, draw around your button again, but this time just add a tiny bit around the edge, I found 2 mm to be just about perfect (I know you have a metric ruler, fellow Americans).

Stitch another circle of running stitches, this time just inside the line you drew around the button.  Leave a tail of thread at the beginning and the end.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 9

 

Pull on both the thread tails to gather the raw edge to the inside.  It may help to get the fabric wet again.  You can use the blunt end of a needle to push out any parts of the turned-in edge that get bunchy.  This doesn’t have to end up as a perfect circle, since it will be on the back, but roundish is helpful.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 11

 

Once the back looks pretty good, I like to tie the thread ends in a knot, so the fabric won’t come ungathered as I sew it on.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 12

 

You can guess what to do now, right?  Yep, sew the back piece in place, using tiny stitches around the edge.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 13

 

Finish off with a couple of backstiches under the edge.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 14

 

That’s it!  I sewed them on using my favorite method, making a thread shank on the back. You could also sew just through the fabric on the back of the button, rather than through the original button holes, but I think this would leave the fabric on top of the button free to shift around a bit.

The possibilities here are endless … and speaking of endless possibilities:

 

Tips for store-bought cover button kits

I use these a lot (at least I did before I discovered the above technique).  My favorite are the tiny ones (surprise).  Here are my best tips:

1.  Get the kind with the teeth facing inwards, not the ones with the flat metal edge.  The teeth are a lot easier to work with, and you can use them without tools, precisely centering your fabric.  The flat edge also cuts through the fabric over time, meaning your buttons wear out faster.

 

cover button packagesOnes on either side, good, the center ones, not so much.  Her hair!  Can you tell I inherited cover button kits from both my grandmothers?

 

2. Use another layer of fabric, or something thin and opaque like interfacing, under your button fabric.  This prevents the shiny button from showing through, and gives your button a subtle but nice plusher look.  The extra piece only needs to be the size of the button top, since it doesn’t need to wrap around.

 

cover buttons coatI replace the fabric on a couple of these buttons on my coat about once a season.  The ones with a layer of interfacing do seem to last longer.

 

3. The guides printed on the back of the button kit are probably too big for thick fabric and/or knits.  You need enough fabric to secure in the teeth, but not so much that it bunches up and keeps the back from seating in securely.  You may need to experiment to find the right size circle for your fabric.

4.  Pull the fabric up from two opposite sides, and hook it onto the teeth by pressing it under them.  Repeat at right angles to your first two points, and then do the places in between.

5.  For knits, it’s up to you how much you stretch the fabric as you pull it over the button.  Pulling less will make the buttons look more plush.  Try to be consistent, however you like it.

 

cover buttons small wool knit

 

6.  It’s totally possible to use the metal parts of these kits many times when the fabric wears out (like on my coat).  Use any small flat tool to pop off the back, then pull off the remains of the fabric, and start again.

7.  You could definitely use embroidery on these as well (they do in that Purl Bee tutorial), just be careful when centering the fabric—see 4.  You could even use the embroidery to tack your two layers together.

 

cover buttons small wool knit finished

 

I think that’s the lot, for now anyway.  Best returns of the season, everyone!

 

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 Hot Weather Sundress, and Making Spaghetti Straps

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 1

 

I’m catching up here.  You know how sometimes, if you prepare carefully for something, it doesn’t happen?  I made this dress for Me-Made-May, but didn’t end up wearing it until the middle of June, due to unseasonably cool and rainy weather all month long.  This year I wanted to up my pledge for May, so that I wore at least two items of me-made clothing at all times.  When it’s really hot out, I like to wear only two items of clothing period, one of which must be a sundress, which allows as much heat to escape from my skin as possible.  My airiest one in particular was 1. wearing out and 2. not me-made, so I clearly needed to replace it before May.  It had a couple of features which I wanted to replicate in my self-stitched version: just about the lowest neckline I am comfortable wearing in public, layers of very light fabric, and gathering at the empire waist.

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 2

 

I used my self-drafted sundress pattern again, altering it this time for a cross-over gathered front.  Each time I make a new version of this dress, I change the back in an attempt to make it not pull up at the center back, and both times so far it has not worked.  Any ideas?  I’m pretty happy with how the front came out though.  One thing I’ve learned: the key to keeping the bodice from immediately gaping open when I bend forward is to ease the top edges into a slightly shorter binding, so that I take some of the fullness around the bust out again. It’s especially important since I replaced the darts on this version with gathers.

 

hot weather dress fabrics

 

This fabric is a cotton batiste, I’m sorry to say I have no recollection of where it came from, I just remember it being in my stash for a long, long time.  My first idea was to use plain white for the lining layer.  As I was cutting out the main fabric pieces, I dropped a piece in my fabric scrap pile, and it happened to land on top of a piece of felt in this light minty green color.  I suddenly remembered that I had another piece of lightweight cotton in a really similar color, which might look great as the inner layer.  It turned out there was just enough of that fabric for the lining and bindings, and I really like how the green adds a little hint of color under the main fabric, and how it looks peaking out at the hem, a detail I added to show off the second color.  Even though I decided not to join any of the official fabric stash-busting challenges going on this year (despite this cool anime dinosaur logo) I have been making a conscious effort to use the fabric I already have, and making some good progress, in part inspired by all the other sewers who are doing the same.

 

hot weather dress spaghetti straps

Click on this picture (or any of the others) to enlarge for easy reading.

 

With all the sundresses and tanks I’ve been making the last year or so, I’ve gotten a lot of practice making thin “spaghetti” straps, and come up with a method that I like.  If the fabric is lightweight, like this one, I’ll use two fabric layers for each strap.  Since the dress will hang from the straps for most of its life, I want them to be fairly sturdy.  I cut each one 1 1/4″ wide, and a couple inches longer than I think I’ll need.  I get the best results when I zigzag the two strap layers together first, with a narrow zigzag right on the edges.  It keeps the layers from shifting as I sew, and from unraveling as I turn the strap right side out.  Then I press the strap in half, to get a clean even fold.  I stitch the strap seam with a short straight stitch, 1/4″ from the edges.  Then turn it right side out.  I use a long wire, as explained here.  The straps come out about 1/4″ wide, and somewhat thick and rounded.  If you do the math, the extra 1/4″ in the width becomes the “turn of cloth”, the extra fabric needed to go around the seam allowances which fill the middle of the strap.

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 4

 

I decided to use light blue thread for topstitching the bindings and hems on both layers.  I topstitched over the straps as well, to go with the look of the bindings.  At one point, I started to wonder if I was going overboard using up things from my stash and adding more colors.  But if I took a step back, I realized that if I saw this dress in a store window, I would want it immediately.  So that was a good imaginary test!  Since I’ve been wearing it, I’ve noticed that all the colors in the print go with lots of other things in my wardrobe too.

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 3

 

Special thanks to my aunt Barbara for taking the pictures of wearing the dress, and for letting me use the beautiful hollyhocks in her garden as a backdrop!  That was the first time it was warm enough to wear the dress, as you can probably tell from my lack of tan here. . .   What about you?  Are you making anything for your current weather, or the coming season?

 

How to Hem Your Own Jeans, and Keep the Original Hem

 

Jeans hem finished hems

 

Once you get started sewing, I’m guessing one thing you’ll want to tackle is to hem your jeans.  You can definitely do it yourself, and keep that distressed hem just as it is.  You’ll need just a few more pieces of equipment than for normal sewing.

(If you need to start with some basic instruction about how to use your sewing machine, check out my e-book for beginners!)

 

Jeans hem equipment

 

A zipper foot lets you stitch with the needle to one side of the foot, right next to the original hem.

Jeans needles for your sewing machine have a sharper point and a longer eye, for sewing through layers of denim.  For the most part, you won’t have to stitch through too many layers with this method, but it still helps.  If you don’t have jeans needles, use a sharp rather than a universal needle.

It really helps to have a spacer, something you can prop up part of the presser foot with as you sew over thick seams (you’ll see why below).  This one came with my sewing machine, but you could also use something not too wide and about 1/8 to 1/4” (3 to 6 mm) thick, like maybe a popsicle stick.

A sturdy hand-sewing needle, and a thimble to push it with, is essential for the finishing of this method (I’ll go over that in the next post).

You’ll also need pins and thread.  The ones you use for regular sewing are fine.  I didn’t happen to have matching thread, so I used black.  It doesn’t show at all on the finished jeans.  Darker thread colors usually blend in easier than lighter ones.

Once you gather your equipment, try on your jeans, and fold up the hem to figure out where you would like it to fall.

 

Jeans hem measuring

 

You can get someone to help measure how much you want to hem your jeans up, while you try them on.  Or pin, try them on, and adjust until you get the hem where you would like it.

Figure out how much in total you want to take out of the length.  Make a fold that measures half that much, starting at the inside edge of the original hem.  You’re going to stitch right next to that original hem, effectively removing the fold of fabric from the length of the jeans.  Whether you’re using cm or inches, the principle is the same, your fold should be half the amount you want to take out, since both sides of the fold are removed from the length.

Make sure your fold is on the inside of the jeans, so it won’t show when you’re done.

Pin the fold in place every couple of inches.  Put the pins in perpendicular to the fold, or at an angle as shown, to make them easy to pull out as you sew.

Pay special attention at the seams, making sure that the original seam lines and topstitching match on both sides of the fold.

 

Jeans hem zipper foot

 

Set up to sew right next to the original hem, using a straight stitch (width 0), length about 2.5 mm.  Use your zipper foot so that the foot can sit flat on just the fold of fabric.  Move the needle position all the way over to your left, towards the original hem, so that you can stitch right next to it (and not hit the foot with the needle).  Let the edge of the foot touch the edge of the hem as you sew.

When you get to the leg seams of the jeans, you’re suddenly sewing through a whole bunch of denim layers, instead of just two.  When this happens, the presser foot ends up at a steep angle, which makes it much more likely to skip stitches (resulting in a weak seam).  This is where the spacer comes in.  When the front of the foot reaches the seam, prop up the back of the foot with the spacer to make it level.  Then as you stitch over the seam, move the spacer to the front of the foot, to keep it level until you are past the bulky seam.  Be careful to keep the spacer in front of the needle, so that you don’t hit it as you sew!

 

Jeans hem spacer

 

If your machine still skips a few stitches, try sewing in reverse and then forward again over the part that’s giving you trouble.  Going slowly over the bulky parts will also help.  You can even use the hand wheel on your machine to make just one stitch at a time.  If it’s skipping a bunch of stitches in a row, check to see if the bobbin thread has broken.  If so, stop and cut the top thread too, then start again so that you overlap a few of the last stitches before the thread broke, to hold them in place.  If the leg seams are giving you a lot of trouble, you can also try flattening them as much as possible using a steam iron, or pounding them with a hammer.

When you get all the way around the leg, sew over the first few stitches that you made, to hold them in place.

Do not skip this step: once you sew around the hem, try on the jeans again to check that the length is where you want it.  If not, at this stage all you have to do is pull out this one line of stitching, and start again.  If the length looks good, you’re ready to finish off your hem.

If you took out more than about an inch in total, it’s likely that your folded out fabric is long enough to show below the hem if you turn it down.  If so, trim it to about 3/8″ (10 mm), or a bit smaller than the original hem (I repeat, try on the jeans and check the length of the new hem before you do this).  To keep these cut edges from unraveling, overcast them with a zigzag stitch.

 

Jeans hem overcasting

 

Use a regular sewing foot for this (zigzag and a zipper foot don’t mix).  Stitch close to the edge.

This whole process is pretty darn simple once you get the hang of it.  You can also use this method to hem other pants, when you want to keep the original hem intact.  It will be even easier if you don’t have think layers of denim to sew through.

In the next post I’ll go over my method for tacking down the extra fabric to make the hem look natural.  In the meantime, if you have any questions, just leave a comment!