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!

 

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!)

 

Slow — What it Means to me Now

 

How I think about slowness, and about my life list of things I’d like to make, has changed pretty dramatically lately. I’ve been wanting to talk about it here, and Slow Fashion October has given me the perfect reason.

It started when I learned to spin. Then a little later, I realized how much I really could make, and how little I really needed. That feeling built, fed by the other things I was doing and reading, until the vast universe of possibilities suddenly felt expansive instead of overwhelming.

 

indigo handspunThis is apparently the only picture of my second batch of handspun before knitting.

 

You wouldn’t think that learning to spin would speed up my knitting, but it kind of did. The two batches of handspun I’ve made so far have gone pretty much straight to the needles, partly because I was so curious to see what I would learn by making something from my own yarn. So one thing was obvious from the start: I can spin all the yarn I need to knit with. In fact, if I spun even a little bit every day, I would end up with much more yarn than I usually consume.

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 3It became a Quaker Yarn Stretcher Boomerang, a fantastic fit for the yarn.  I’ll post Details are now on Ravelry, but for now I want to focus on the thoughts.

 

I already have a pair of fingerless gloves, and a pair of dreamy mittens, and that’s really all my hands need. Between (ahem) making them and the ones my grandma wove, I’m approaching more fantastic scarves/shawls than I can actually wear. And then, I can’t imagine I need more than four good sweaters. Actually, my ideal would probably be three sweaters I absolutely love, and one to throw on when the going might get rough. Right now I have the rough one, a thrifted one I think is OK (but Bryan is not a fan of), and some other kind of makeshift stuff. But those got me through all last winter just fine. And my SFO goal is to re-finish one that will hopefully become one of the loved ones. I could make another one next winter or the winter after, and that would be more than fine. There’s actually plenty of time for me to find the perfect fleece, wash it, comb it, spin it …

So need, or maybe it would be more accurate to say lack of need, is a big part of this shift in my head. I find it incredibly helpful and freeing, and it goes something like this: if I already have most of what I really need for this winter, I’m free to spend my time making something really special (no matter how long it takes) or trying something new (ditto).

What I don’t know how to explain (in fact I’m not sure I’m explaining any of this very well) is why spinning in particular set me free from the desire to make all the things, but here I am. Of course, if I didn’t spin it would still be perfectly valid (maybe even more so) to say, “I have the capacity to make so much more than I will ever need.” In fact I think maybe every maker should say this, and see how they feel about it.

I know that time always seems short. I have struggled and struggled with that myself. But I’m coming closer to peace with it, and for me anyway, it doesn’t really have anything to do with productivity, with figuring out how much I can “fit” into a given time, how much I can accomplish or make. Ultimately, a good life isn’t about how much we do. It’s about what we do, what’s memorable, how we shape and enjoy our experiences.

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 2

 

In theory when we decide to sew or knit something instead of buying it, we’re taking more time about it and being more thoughtful. But somehow pursuing a craft can also pull us into a spiral of wanting to make more and more, of making something just to finish it and go on to making something else, because we have so many ideas. Thinking about everything I’d like to make leaves me perpetually unsatisfied, as it always must, since I can think of about a dozen new ideas per day. Framing my making around what I need allows most of those ideas to pop up, get admired, and then just float away. Lovely though ideas are, they should not all be added to a perpetually growing list of things I “must” make.

Ironically, giving up on making all my ideas for the realms I usually work in (mainly clothing) may leave me time to take on things in my wildest crafting dreams. Try making shoes? How about a quilt from those passed-down handwoven scraps? Well if I’m content with what I have to wear for the moment, why the f#^k not?!

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 4

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all kinds of ideas around slowness. I listened to an interview with William Powers and I’m convinced I need to read his new book New Slow City. One thing he talks about is taking time to fully have an experience, just focusing on what you’re doing instead of already planning the next thing you’re going to do after it. I want to do craft like that. This week, I’ve been in the final stages of refinishing a treadle sewing machine cabinet, a project I have probably a months’ worth of total work hours sunk into. Just doing that, and thinking about nothing but that, running my hands over the velvety smooth wood and mulling over all the steps that got me there, it was so incredibly satisfying. Much more so than finishing four little projects and for each one just thinking “oh good, that’s done,” and moving on.

Letting go of a lot of my ideas does feel like somewhat of a surrender, but it feels like the kind when the heat of the day won’t let up, insects drone on, and finally there is nothing for it but to peel off whatever clothes are handy and throw yourself into the nearest body of cool water. Or the end of a long winter day, when nothing feels better than to pull warm cozy blankets all around you, and let your whole body relax.

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher

 

So here’s what slow fashion means to me right now: it means I will make just a few things at a time, and I will make them with my whole heart. It means I will allow ideas for things that I don’t need to float away, and concentrate on the projects that mean the most to me and those that will be the most useful. It means I will give myself space to enjoy the processes, the parts that bring me the most joy (like spinning) without worrying about what’s next on the list. And I think it will mean that the more I make in this slow way, the more I will wear my heart on the outside, all over my body.

Anybody else want in? The water’s fine …

 

Back into My (Slow) Groove

 

sewing kit with thimble

 

Hello and happy October 1 everyone!  We’re home, and Bryan’s big exhibit is open.  I’m getting back into my own routines and creative practices.  I have a backlog of stuff to share with you, but I wanted to start with two very October-first-related items:

  1.  The new issue of Seamwork magazine comes out today (the menswear issue—cool huh?) and I have a tutorial in it about how to sew your own leather thimble!  It’s coincidentally perfect for:
  2. #slowfashionoctober which also starts today!  I think this is a great idea and I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with.  I’ll definitely be writing more about “slow” and how I feel about it this month.  And I’ve also decided to use it to tackle maybe the slowest-ever project—a sweater that my mom knit for my grandmother, which I’ve tried to make over so I can wear it, but it needs more help.  I have a plan, so we’ll see how that goes.

Stay tuned, and hope you’re looking forward to October plans as much as I am!

 

tea dyed fisherman in progress

 

How to Add Pockets in Seams

finished pockets on

I used to joke about this, but I’ve decided it’s actually true: the lack of pockets is holding women back.  I mean, if our choices are either carry a purse everywhere and don’t let it out of sight, ask someone of the opposite gender to hold things for us, or attempt to stick our phones in our bras, of course we’re going to struggle to be taken seriously.

I do carry some kind of bag most places I go (with essential stuff like my notebook, and sometimes knitting in it), but there are lots of times when just pockets will do.  Everyone needs pockets, good pockets that are actually big enough to put your phone in, and sit down afterwards.

 

I was so exited about finishing this dress that I forgot to add the pockets, and had to go back and put them in! I’ll include a bit about the decorative edging I used at the end of the post.

 

This is why maker & fixer skills are important: instead of complaining about the lack of pockets, we can change it, and add some ourselves.  Guys who don’t have enough pockets in their lives are welcome too!

In this post I’ll go over adding pockets to a seam in your garment, commonly called “side-seam” or “in-seam” pockets.  You can do this as you’re sewing, or retrofit pockets into a garment that’s already finished.  In short, the steps are: 1. Plan your pocket, and prepare the pieces.  2. Sew the pocket pieces to the garment seams.  3. Sew the garment seams, including around the pocket.  If you have some beginner sewing skills, you can handle this.  (Ahem, get some skills here.)  Let’s get started!  As usual, click on any of the photos to enlarge for a closer look.

 

Plan & Prepare Your Pocket

measuring pocket patternFirst figure out how big and what shape you’d like your pocket to be.  You can use a pocket piece from a pattern you have, or trace the shape of an existing pocket that you like onto paper for a pattern.  (If you trace an existing pocket, remember to add extra space—seam allowance—all around it to account for the fabric that will be used up in the seams.)  I used the pattern piece at right, which is a common shape for side-seam pockets.

Figure out where along your seam you want your pocket to go, and mark it with pins.  Measure the length of the flat side of your pocket, the part that you’ll sew into the seam.  This is how much space you’ll need on your seam for the pocket.  If you’re sewing from scratch, you can just center the pocket on your pin marks, and sew it as explained below, before you sew the seam.  If you’re adding pockets to a garment that’s already finished, you’ll need to rip the seam where you want the pocket to go, taking out a space a bit bigger than the pocket piece, to give yourself room to work.  I really like using this method to rip seams.  Don’t worry about tying off the ends of the old seam here, because you’ll sew over them later.

 

adding ss pockets drawing 1

 

Fabric and Piecing

You’ll need two pocket pieces for each pocket you want to add.  Cut them so that they’re mirror images, i.e. so that you can sew the shape together and have the right (public/outside) sides of the fabric touching.

This kind of pocket doesn’t show much, but you’ll probably be able to see a bit of it peeking out.  If you have matching fabric, obviously cutting your pockets from that will make it blend in the most.  If not, choose something you like that you won’t mind seeing a bit of.  The pocket fabric should be fairly tightly woven/sturdy, especially if you plan to carry heavy objects in it.

If you have only a bit of matching fabric, you can cut each side of the pocket in two pieces, so that the matching part is at the top.  When planning this, don’t forget to add extra seam allowance where the pieces meet.  Sew the pieces together into the pocket shape before you attach them.

 

pieced pocketOn close inspection you can see that the two halves of this pocket are pieced in different places, and that’s fine.  The printed fabric matches the outside of this dress, and the white is scraps from the lining.

 

Note: You can also add to a skimpy existing pocket (I hate those!), by cutting off the bottom and adding more.  Rip a bit of the old pocket seams along the sides to give yourself room to work.  Sew each side of the new pocket bottoms to the old pocket tops, then sew around the pocket, overlapping the old seam.  The finished pocket may look something like the one above.

 

Sew the Pocket to the Seam

Once you have your pocket ready and know where it will go, pin one pocket piece onto one side of the garment seam.  Line up the seam allowances, and make sure you place the right side of the pocket touching the right side of the garment piece.  Sew the pocket on, using the same seam allowance as the garment seam, or just slightly narrower.  Start and stop a little bit outside the pocket.  You don’t need to back-tack your seams, they’ll be held in place by other stitches later.

adding ss pockets drawing 2This illustration shows attaching the pocket to a seam you’ve ripped, which is still in place above and below the pocket.  It’s the same if you’re starting from scratch, except that the other piece of the garment won’t be attached yet.

 

Repeat this procedure with the other pocket pieces, making sure that any two sides which will be one pocket are aligned at the same place on the garment seam.

Using your iron, press the pockets open, away from the garment.  Don’t skip this step!  It will make all the difference in a clean finish.

 

adding ss pockets drawing 3Here’s what it looks like in real life, with one side of the pocket sewn on and pressed open, although it’s a little hard to see in the tiny print:

pocket seams one side done

 

 Sew the Seam with a New Pocket

To finish, sew the garment seam, including around the pocket.  When you get to the top of the pocket, sew just inside of the pocket stitching and fabric, to avoid catching anything in the seam that will show.  Stop with the needle down, and pivot at the point where the seam allowance matches on the garment and the pocket.  Keep sewing, around the pocket, and pivot again when you reach a point just inside (towards the garment, not the pocket) the first seam at the bottom of the pocket.  If you’re sewing from scratch, you’ll sew the whole seam above and below the pocket in this step as well.  If you’re refashioning a pocket, you’ll start and stop just enough away from the pocket to overlap the old seam stitching.

 

adding ss pockets drawing 4The stitching for this step is shown in the darkest color, overlapping the old seam, and just outside of the seam that attaches the pocket pieces.

 

Look, brand new wonderful pockets!

If your garment has a lining, you now have two choices.  You can leave it alone, meaning the pocket will sit between the garment and the lining, which is usually good.  On my lightweight dresses, I decided to make an opening in the lining seam, so that the pocket would be inside the lining too, and show less from the outside.  All you need to do for this option is to rip the lining seam at the pocket opening, or leave a gap when you are sewing the seam.  Knot the thread ends, or back-tack your stitching, to hold the edges of the gap in place.

finished pocket inside

 

And Finally, Optional Decorative Pocket Strips

Since I was thinking about celebrating pockets, I decided to make the ones on my latest sundress a little more visible by adding fabric strips that matched the binding and straps on the dress.  Just in case you like this look, here’s how I did it:

1. Cut strips 1/2″ wider and longer (for 1/4″ SA) than you want them to appear when finished.  I made them 1/2″ wide finished, (cut 1″ wide) and slightly longer than the pocket opening.

2. Press the strips in half to mark the center, then press the SA under all around.

pocket decorative strip 1

 

3. Topstitch each strip in place, close to the edge of the strips.

pocket decorative strip 2

 

4. Sew the seam, and around the pocket, as you normally would.

finished pocket outside

 

Have you ever added or improved pockets?  What do you think about how the pockets in ready-to-wear relate to our society’s image of women?  Any other relevant thoughts?

 

Thoughts about Sewing, Empowerment, and Body Image

 

As we near the end of Me-Made-May, it seems like a good time to share some thoughts about sewing, empowerment, and body image. Although I get a huge boost of self-sufficiency when I’m wearing the clothes I made, I actually don’t think much about sewing as it relates to how I feel about my body. Except for when I’m making pants. I originally wrote these thoughts as part of a proposed series on the Colleterie, which didn’t get off the ground, but it seems a shame not to get them out into the world. I thought about a lot of this again just recently when I was working on my trousers.

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 4

 

I’m lucky that when I was growing up, my parents always stressed that I’m just fine the way I am. I’ve never had a really negative image of my body. But I have always had trouble finding pants that fit at all, or were remotely comfortable. I would describe my figure in a nutshell as small and pear shaped. When I’m good about exercise, my thighs get firmer, but they don’t exactly shrink. In fact, in High School, when I was doing lots of power yoga every week, and in the best shape I’ve ever been, I just about gave up wearing pants altogether. It wasn’t worth it; they were just too uncomfortable. I have a vivid memory of sitting in class wishing I could just grab the top thighs of my jeans and yank upwards, and that the seams would pop down the sides, releasing my legs.  I never actually tried it, but after that I stopped wearing jeans.

 

grey pants side

 

Since then I’ve explored my style, how it relates to my body, and to how others see me, through my sewing—starting with long skirts. As you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, I’ve also been working on and off for years on pants that actually fit me. It wasn’t until I was making the purple pair that I realized how much not being able to find clothes that fit or flatter could affect my conceptions about my body. Those purple pants aren’t perfect, but they show off my shape and are comfortable—a miracle to me. When I’m standing in front of a dressing room mirror and no pair of pants I try on looks good or feels right, I think that encourages me to feel like I need to change, like my body is not right. I was fairly amazed at how, looking at my legs in these new me-made pants, it was so much easier to say, “I love my body! It’s so cute and curvy!” It’s not my body that needs to change—it’s the pants. From my hair to my thighs, I’ve had the best experiences with my body when I realize not only that I can’t change something, but that I shouldn’t be trying to change it, that the beauty the universe gives me is for me to embrace and to work with, not to fight. And I can only do that if I’m willing to think outside the box, to take the time and develop the skills I need to get what I really want and need.

 

purple cords side

 

To me sewing, and making anything, is all about empowerment. Since I sew, I can break free from the consumer culture that gives me limited choices, while at the same time encouraging me to find fault with everything, in order to sell me more cheap stuff. Sewing is a way out of that cycle, and also a way in to a deeper and better understanding of my own body and taste, my personality, my unique self. Perhaps the best part is that this kind of freedom is available to anyone who wants it, anyone who’s willing to can their own jam or sew their own jeans.  Let’s go get it, people!

 

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?