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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Hand-Stitched Badges for Me-Made-May

A beginning embroidery primer, with free patterns.

 

For the last few years, May has found us around Washington DC. We usually do two art shows there, and in between stay with some dear friends and ride the Metro to visit the sites of our nation’s capitol. The whole time we’re surrounded by so many people (especially from my middle-size-town perspective). Since it’s Me-Made-May, I spend even more time thinking about what those people are wearing than I normally would. It’s easy to get a little bummed out when I look around and consider that, of the hundreds of strangers I can see at any given moment on the subway platform or at a monument, perhaps none of them are wearing anything handmade. But it also got me thinking that maybe they just haven’t considered it, that if they knew there was a whole movement going on, that folks around the country and the world were encouraging each other and posting about their handmade wardrobes at that very moment, maybe it would encourage a few of them to at least think about it.

So I wanted to bring something that said I was participating in Me-Made-May, and/or that I had made part of my outfit, off the internet and onto my physical person where all those strangers could see it. I started to talking to Zoe about it, and she liked the idea too. I owe her big thanks for her support, bouncing ideas around, and of course for putting on this challenge for us again this year! Since MMM is all about stitching, and I’ve been doing a lot of hand-sewing and embroidery lately, here’s what I ended up with:

 

embroidered mmm badge

 

You can make them too! I designed these little badges with embroidery beginners in mind, and I’ll walk you through some parts that might be confusing, so even if hand-sewing isn’t usually your thing, you can handle it. If you’re already further along in your embroidery journey, feel free to skip down and glance through the photos, then print the pattern and get started.  Click the link below to get the pattern:

MMM-badges-pattern

 

materials & tools

You’ll need some felt, and some embroidery floss, thread, or fine yarn.

Wool felt is an ideal material to start stitching on, since it’s forgiving, doesn’t ravel, is thick enough to not need backing, and you can hide ends and extra stitches in the thickness.

The Me-Made-May badge is stitched here in variagated cotton floss, and the “I MADE this!” one in wool thread.  There’s more about the specific threads I used at the end of this post.

You’ll also need a few basic sewing tools: a sharp needle with a long eye, and a small sharp scissors. I always wear a thimble like this one when I’m hand stitching.

Finally, you’ll need a scrap of tissue paper and a fine-point pen to transfer your design to the felt.

 

thread types

Let’s talk for a minute about the differences between cotton and wool, and floss and thread, for stitching. Wool threads designed for embroidery are often labeled “crewel” (a type of embroidery) and are usually made up of two single strands (called plies) twisted together. This plying is integral to the structure of the thread, and it’s not meant to be separated.

 

embroidered mmm badge 9

 

Cotton floss often comes in a loosely twisted bundle of threads, which can be separated to make various thicknesses. This is called “strandable” floss. If you look closely (maybe with a magnifier), each strand of this kind of floss actually has its own two-ply structure. Some cotton threads have a non-strandable structure as well.

 

embroidered mmm badge 8

 

Just like in sewing or knitting, the different properties of wool and cotton fibers make a difference to how they work in embroidery. Wool’s crimpy, elastic nature means that it plumps up, filling gaps and making it easier to embroider a smooth satin stitch or a plush knot. Cotton is denser, smoother, and less elastic, meaning you may need more thread to cover the same area, and the stitching will have a tighter, flatter look.

 

getting started

Put a little piece of tissue paper over the printed pattern you want to make. You can use scraps of tissue, and iron them flat if necessary. Using a fine-point pen that won’t bleed, trace the pattern carefully, including the circle around the edge. Make a single line for thinner shapes and letters, and draw around the outline of thicker shapes. Pin the tissue to your felt, with the pins outside the circle. You’ll stitch right through the tissue and the felt to make the design.

 

embroidered mmm badge 1

 

I tried several methods of transferring the patterns to my felt, and this one worked the best. An iron-on transfer pen (not a pencil) also works, but it makes thick permanent marks that are a little fiddly to apply, and must be covered with stitching.

To thread the needle, I use the techniques I shared in this Seamwork article about hand-stitching. I found that it helps to fold over the end of the wool thread, and to wet the end of the cotton floss.

To begin, take a long stitch on the back through the thickness of the felt, coming up near where you want to start. Let a little bit of thread remain on the back surface. You can trim it off later to neaten things up. If possible, take your first stitch as a backstitch to anchor the thread.

 

embroidered mmm badge 5

 

General embroidery tips:

  • Stitch in good light! It’s unbelievable what a difference this makes.
    Test out your stitches and thread on a scrap before you start, especially if you are experimenting with new stitches and/or aren’t sure what thickness of thread to use to get the look you want.
  • How even your stitches look depends mainly on how even the tension is between one stitch and the next. Start off slow and even.
  • When moving from one letter or shape to the next one, take a stitch through the thickness of the felt to keep it hidden. To keep long stitches from pulling the next part of the embroidery out of shape, push the needle straight through to the back of the work, then take a long stitch into the felt, coming out on the back near where you want to start again. Then bring the needle up to the front in your next spot.

 

the stitches

Most of the text in these patterns is made with backstitch. I explain this stitch in that Seamwork article, and in even more detail in this post.

 

embroidered mmm badge 2

 

Backstitch tips:

  • Put your needle in right at the end of the last stitch for a solid line.
  • Look ahead at the section you are stitching, and decide whether to divide it into two stitches or three, etc.
  • Think about the path of the thread when you come to corners and curves. Remember that where the needle goes in is the beginning of the current stitch, and where it comes out is the end of the next stitch.

 

embroidered mmm badge 3

 

For the scallops around the edge of the Me-Made-May badge, I used a simple straight stitch. Follow the individual lines on the pattern for a looser look that shows off the separate threads, or fill in the whole scallop shape, depending on the thread you’re using and the look you’re going for.

 

embroidered mmm badge 6

 

I filled in the thicker lines of text with satin stitch, which is basically a row of straight stitches very close together, so that they look like a solid surface. It’s easier to keep these stitches even and plush-looking if you work them over a base of another stitch. For these patterns I outlined the satin stitch sections in backstitch first.

 

Straight & satin stitch tips:

  • Backstitch around the outline of all the text, and finish all other parts of the design that use the pattern as a guide, then remove the tissue pattern before you fill in the satin stitch. You’ll be able to see exactly where the stitches are more clearly, and pulling off the tissue will be easier.
  • Cut carefully around the outer circle of the design. Leave the outside of the tissue pinned to the felt for reference and later cutting (you may actually want a few more pins at this point to hold it smoothly). Tear out the part under the badge itself. Pointed tweezers are an ideal tool for pulling out tiny/stubborn pieces of tissue.

 

embroidered mmm badge 7

 

  •  I find it easier to keep an even tension if I put the needle all the way through to the back at the end of each stitch, and bring it up again close to the stitch I just made on the same side of the shape I’m stitching. This method is slower to work than the more common technique of taking the needle under on one side of the shape and up on the other side in one stitch. But, it uses less thread and is easier to control, especially when you’re starting out.
    • Stitch as close to the foundation backstitches as possible for a full look. You can even push the foundation stitches to the side with the needle to make more space and keep the line of stitches even.

     

    embroidered mmm badge 10

     

    • If your satin stitch comes out a little lumpy, it can help to put the eye of your needle into a row of stitching and move it gently back and forth.

     

    embroidered mmm badge 11

     

    • When making satin stitch around curves (like on the D in “MADE”) it helps to make the stitches inside the curve as close together as possible, and fan them out a bit on the outside of the curve, a technique that’s illustrated in detail on Needle ‘n Thread here.

     

    The round knots around the outside of the “I MADE this!” badge are colonial knots. They’re a variation on a French knot where you loop the thread in a figure eight around the needle before pushing it back into the fabric. I like these because they hold a larger, more textural shape, and can’t come undone as you’re making them. They look especially plump in wool threads.  There are more pictures and explanation about colonial knots on Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials.

     

    embroidered mmm badge 13

     

    finishing

    When you come to the end of a section of thread, bury it through the felt for a short distance and come out on the back. You can trim the ends close, since some thread remains in the thickness to keep your stitches from pulling out.

     

    embroidered mmm badge 4

     

    Once all your stitching is complete, cut out the felt circle, once more going carefully around the shape you traced.

     

    embroidered mmm badge 12

     

    Sew a pin, a clip, or a magnet to the back, and it’s ready to go meet the world.

     

    embroidered mmm badge back

     

    supplies

    I used handmade felt, because I have lots of scraps of it laying around. Use what you can find near you, but if you possibly can, use real wool felt rather than the synthetic stuff. Wool is just so much lovelier to work with, and it will hold up to wear much better. Mine was 2-3mm, or around 1/8” thick.  Weir crafts sells a variety of felt online, including some that’s handmade and some that’s made in USA.

    I discovered two things while looking for threads for this project: there are probably as many small companies and indie dyers making embroidery threads as there are making knitting yarn, and I personally am just not interested in using floss in flat colors. My mom has been into embroidery for as long as I can remember, and a quick dig through just part of her stash resulted in many more beautiful options than I could use.

    For the Me-Made-May badge, I chose two colors of variegated cotton “painter’s threads” from Tentakulum; 121 “Cezanne” and 125 “Matisse.” They’re made in Germany, and available through embroidery suppliers in the US, including Artistic Artifacts. DMC also makes a couple of ranges of variegated floss, which are a lot more common, at least where I live.

    For the “I MADE this!” design, I used some amazing fine crewel wool thread, dyed with natural pigments by Renaissance Dyeing, out of France; color numbers 0309, 1622, 1708, and 2000. Single colors are available in the US through Hedgehog Handworks.  Photos do not do these colors justice; they are good enough to eat!  Any crewel wool or very fine yarn that you like would be a good substitute.

     

    embroidered mmm badge 14

     

    In case you’re wondering, while I had plenty of materials to choose from right in front of me, I did do a little searching to see what I could come up with for organic/traceable threads. Renaissance Dyeing looks good on the sustainability front; they use all natural dyes and local wool, it’s just that they’re far away from me. Organic Cotton Plus also sells a line of organic cotton embroidery floss which is grown & spun in Peru and dyed in the USA.

    Personally, I think I’ll be using a lot of the yarn scraps I have lying around, especially for larger designs.  And I think it would be well worth it to buy (or spin!) some natural colored thread, and drop a tiny skein into every dye pot I try.  It takes so little, why not?

     

    resources

    All you have to do is start searching on Instagram, Etsy, or wherever you get your internet eye candy to find amazing examples of beautiful modern embroidery.  I particularly like Katherine Shaughessy’s crewel work, she has two books with a fun modern aesthetic, and sells supplies and patterns (with some free ones) on her site Wool & Hoop. Yumiko Higuchi also does some of my favorite embroidery. She likes to to mix wool & cotton threads, and her book just published in English (Simply Stitched) does a great job of taking advantage of the properties of both, as well as being full of inspiring designs.

    If you make one of these, I’d absolutely love to see it!  Share it using #mmmay16, #handstitched, or email me a photo. And of course, I’m here to answer questions if I can.

    Happy stitching!

     

    News April 2016: Flag Wool and Me-Made-May

    Hi everyone!  Just a couple of quick things today.

    First off, I’m teaching at my hometown wool festival Flag Wool and Fiber again this year, and it’s coming up: June 4 & 5.  I’ll have a brand new class on modern free-form embroidery, and I’ve really been enjoying researching and brushing up my stitching skills for that. I’m also doing a “Knitter’s Toolbox” class that’s intended to take your knitting to the next level. Click through to the festival’s site to read more about both classes.

     

    knitter's toolbox

     

    Second, it’s almost Me-Made-May!  After some debate I’ve decided to pledge to wear only me-made (not just -altered or -repaired) garments this year, with a few exceptions: raincoat (not about to try making one when I have an almost-new one), socks (not enough me-knit ones yet), and then there’s a jacket which I would love to finish by May … but it might very well not happen, so I left myself a little wiggle room (if it’s cold enough for a jacket I’m wearing one, me-made or not).

    We’ll see how this goes.  I’m not sure that I’ll feel more self-sufficient wearing only things I cut from scratch rather than things I altered or fixed so I could wear them, and I’m pretty sure there are a couple of garments I’ll miss wearing.  But this pledge seemed like the next logical step in the wardrobe direction I’ve been headed, and I’m curious to see how I end up feeling about it and what I’ll discover.  I’d also like to share (most likely on Instagram) a little more of my MMM than I have in the past couple of years.  Even though that can be hard on the road, I’m going to try.

    And launching soon, a project which is actually a fusion of the two items above—I hope you’ll stay tuned!

    Grateful and Lush

    A quick Me-Made-May ’15 wrap-up, plus some totally unrelated spring thoughts and photos …
    Tasha teaching felting Flag Wool

    Photo by Louisa Ballard

    This shot of me teaching felting at Flag Wool is the closest thing I have to an outfit photo for the whole month of May! I decided not to worry about documentation for MMM this year, which was mostly a good choice, even though I felt a little more alone in my handmade-wearing.  It was such a busy month in the best way, and I just didn’t need any other thing to try and do every day.  Plus I felt like my best thoughts around a handmade wardrobe happened at the beginning/planning stage this year, and once I set it up I basically dressed like I normally would, except for the items I couldn’t wear because they didn’t fit my pledge, which were quarantined in the back of my closet.  I fell back in love with one old me-made skirt.  And discovered that while I may technically have enough me-made or me-repaired socks to make it through the month, I don’t have the will to keep on top of the laundry so that they’re always clean and ready to go … I also decided that any situation which calls for truly expendable work clothes doesn’t count. I was definitely looking forward the end of my self-imposed restrictions by the end of the month, although I enjoyed the challenge. I have a small wardrobe in any case, so maybe my goal for next year should be to add a few more me-made pieces. Also, I’m going to try harder to come up with some kind of documentation that works for me.

    This May we traveled out to the Washington DC area for two art shows, and saw a bunch of friends, which has been part of our May plan for the last few years.  But we were also home more than normal, including for the wool festival here, which was super fun.  I had great students, and enjoyed the vendors (there was some totally beautiful handspun, among other things) and sheep as much as anyone.  I also worked on writing & photographing two new articles for Seamwork while we were back—I can’t say much about them yet, except of course that I’m really excited!  I can’t wait for you all to see them too.

    Throughout all of this, I felt like I’d fallen into a pond of gratefulness.  Our trip went well.  Friends and family lent me their tools and knowledge at the exact time I need them.  I had enough me-made/altered/repaired clothes to wear for a whole month.  I was in the home I love, working and learning around things I’m passionate about.  To top it all off, that home was not on fire, or anywhere close to it.  We’ve had an unusually wet spring, and it’s mind blowing to think that just about this time last year our neighborhood was under evacuation orders from the Slide Fire.  (It didn’t get that close in the end, but it was such a scary time).  The forest is so lush right now.  Well, lush for here, a little carpet of green grass and small yellow flowers under the pines.  I tried to take a photo, but it just doesn’t look full of water and life unless you live here … but every time I look out the window I breathe a little sigh of relief.

    Instead I’ll leave you with a few photos from earlier this spring, near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  Spring anywhere out East still fascinates me, having grown up in a land where a little grass and extra flowers count as lush.  More fiber stuff is on the way!

     

    spring mammoth branches

     

    spring mammoth ripples

     

    spring mammoth moss and flower

     

    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’14 Thoughts and Drawings

     

    mmm'14 day 6

     

    Hello, all!  I’ve been keeping up with my pledge for Me-Made-May’14; wearing, and drawing, and working on some sweater.  You can see some of my sketches and sweater progress on Flickr.  I think it’s fun to check out the whole MMM’14 group and see what everyone is wearing.

    Also, in case you missed it, my thoughts for sewing/dressing in May were on ‘So, Zo …’ this past week!  Along with a bunch of other people’s from around the world.  One thing we mostly seem to agree on: spring is a time for layers, and a good pair of pants!  Check it out …

    Happy Sunday!

     

     

    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!