Saturday, December 24, 2011

Working Title

Years ago, I met a client, who has since become a friend. "Start writing," she said, and I did.  She  told me that it is very important to have a "working title" when you start, so you know where you're going.  So, I've literally been "weaving" a mostly true tale ever since.  People keep telling me to keep writing.  Those who don't know I do, tell me to start.  Is it all leading somewhere?

Anyway, there are threads and yarn and tangled twists and turns throughout the story, and I assume I'll be able to get them all worked out and organized as my double helix of thoughts winds into a more tightly organized journey.  Funny how threads and strings keep finding their way to me.

My Mom - WWII - knitting group with Red Cross leaders, making blankets for soldiers.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Been busy...

Fun feather collar on a duster style jacket/coat for a client.  Looks great on the body. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vintage racing jacket (for the true enthusiast)

I had a client who owned a 40 year old racing jacket, which is no longer being made. He loved it so, but it was soiled and stained, worn in many places, failed elastic ... sprinkled with holes and threadbare areas.  He asked me to copy the jacket.

So I did.

And he loved it.  These kinds of projects make my heart happy.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mom's 80th b-day

The greatest family celebration ever!  It was so nice to be surrounded by all of my brothers and sisters, their children, spouses, and even their children's children!

God, NASA, and textile artists...

This is an actual NASA photograph, taken from space. 

This is a beautiful cotton fabric I purchased a year before seeing that photograph, which became part of my ridicu-shirt.

Pretty amazing.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Little Dresses for Africa (and a big thanks to Condoleeza Rice)

Strange and serendipitous things have been happening lately.

I have a cousin who is an executive for a very large company, and she belongs to a women's group, where Condoleeza Rice was recently invited to speak.  Before this event, each of the women in her group was asked to submit up to two questions, some of which would be answered during the Q&A session following the talk.  My cousin asked me to help her by suggesting a question or two for her to submit.

I asked a question on my daughter's behalf, and it was THE ONLY question chosen for Dr. Rice to answer.

I asked how a 10 year old (my daughter, let's say?) can get active now in things that will help her to nourish an interest in government/politics/international affairs.

Her answers were very interesting. To summarize, I'll list her biggest points below:

  • Study abroad when you have the opportunity.
  • Immerse yourself in the things that interest you. (piano, dance, writing, whatever)
  • Learn about other cultures. 
  • Seek out opportunities to learn outside of school.
  • Study a foreign language.  It can be any language, but she suggests Chinese - and not for the reasons you think! Do this because it changes the way you think.  Learning to write in characters will change the way you express yourself.

Okay... there is a lot more to what she said and why she said it, but, in a nutshell, here's what happened next.

My in-laws came to visit for Thanksgiving, and my daughter had a community service hours assignment for school to complete by December 1st.  She found herself needing a few more hours because she lost her log of hours completed prior to that date, with the supervisors' signatures.  I'm sure we could have resolved it, but she decided that she just wanted to start a new sheet, and forget about the 5 hours she would lose by having misplaced the first sheet.  I thought that was such a noble gesture, I didn't suggest that she do anything else.  So, she said she wanted to help at the soup kitchen at church for the Thanksgiving meal (which actually happens on Thanksgiving eve - we've partnered with another church in the area who serves on Thanksgiving Day).

I must admit, it wasn't really something I was eager to do.  I thought it would be sad.  But I did agree to help her, because she was actually excited about doing it.  I went over to our church, and asked if there was any way we could help.  I was told that if we came at 5 PM, they would find something for us to do.  We did go, and we were put in charge of the  tea and coffee service table.  It was the warmest, most peaceful, happy event!  So many of the people seemed to have language issues - day laborer types, and foreign-born people just down on their luck, and a full spectrum of others, too!  My daughter and I got a good chance to talk about why a person who comes here from another place might have a hard time finding a job, a place to live, money...  She was really energized by that experience, and I could see the wheels turning.

The following Sunday, we were at church again, and a woman from the women's group there, who knows my sewing abilities, asked me if I could help her with a project.  Her group wanted to sew pillowcase dresses, and wanted me to make a sample, to help them understand the instructions.  Very simple.  No problem.

I opened the package she gave me, and inside, was a link to the pattern instructions to make these dresses, for a program called "Little Dresses for Africa". So, my daughter still had community service time remaining to do for school, and I asked her if she would like to help me make one.  She agreed, so we started on a dress.  I stopped to look at the website after wondering why little pillowcase dresses were chosen as an important project for these children.  I read and explained to my daughter all I read about the program, about places where people are living in poverty, about the second-class citizen status of young girls and women in some of these cultures, and the message these dresses sought to convey.  My daughter was intrigued, and now, she wants to make more.

Scott Pilgrim shirt - Also known as the "Ridicu-shirt"

When I work, I have lots of idea collisions in my head.  These are the notes I took to make the shirt pictured above, and, in the video are the images that helped to inspire it...

These are my notes:

  • Inspired by the movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
  • Fabric synesthesia and "Born on a Blue Day" and graffiti  - I can hear it, smell it - sour apple and watermelon, It shouts danger
  • A million tiny decisions to make this shirt
  • I want "floating" elements, so you can't quite see how it attaches.  
  • No visible stitching
  • New York shirt - urban cowgirl, knowing nothing about nature
  • NY Elegant fabric jumped off shelf
  • If I had an album, this would be my cover
  • If I had a job to quit in anger, this is what I would wear to do it. 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Elegance International Spring/Summer 1971

A collection of fabric swatches and beautiful photographs that will delight you.  I can see the modern-day cousins to each of these.  The last one, though, makes me giggle a bit...

If this picture had a caption, what would it be?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fabric stores in New York City

Since writing this post, I have taken charge of the Shop the Garment District blog, where you will find a much more in-depth exploration of what the garment district has to offer!

Note, everything below was written in November 2011 - so some have changed/moved since...

So... since I've been to a frighteningly large number of them now, and I can see that this is the topic that lands most of you here, I'm gonna give you a true garmento-style guided tour of the garment district, so you know what to do and where to go when looking for fabrics, creative ideas, and so many tidbits of info you'll never be able to find elsewhere. Here goes... and this is gonna be good... Promise.

A place to start:

For the completely uninitiated, purse-clutching tourist who is scared of her/his own shadow, the garment district is a wild, hustly-bustly, noisy place. Not only that, storefront leasing prices have SKYROCKETED in recent years, leaving some of the quaint sewing shops that have been priced out of their spots, to be replaced with peep show booths and sex shops. Ignore them, and whistle some tunes from "My Fair Lady" as you walk by, if that makes you feel better.  All of these stores are all within walking distance from one another.

First stop for the newbie, and anyone else:

Paron Fabrics (moving in March 2012 - see comments below)
206 West 40th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
The closest subway stop is the 42nd Street/Times Square station
Note: This store has since moved.

Very reasonable prices, and very descriptive labels on the bolts, describing the fabric, it's purpose (sometimes), and which designer used it. Sometimes the prices are downright fabulous! Here's the trick, though... There isn't very much of many of the fabrics. This place is selling the designers' "leftovers", so you can't think about stuff and come back later. If you do that, chances are, it will be gone. You can't go to this store with a list, unless you are looking for the most common of common goods. Another benefit is that the colors and fabrications available are usually very much on trend. Also, the lighting in this store is problematic, making it hard to get an accurate read on colors. I must say that the fabric is very well organized, and be sure to check the discount room to your left, halfway through the store. If you get a swatch of a fabric you're considering, you can take it outside in daylight to check it. Staff can be a bit surly, but they mean well.

For the more confident fabric shopper:

Rosen and Chadick
561 7th Ave (corner of 40th Street)
NY, NY 10018

Peacefully nestled on the 2nd floor of an office building, Rosen and Chadick is my favorite fabric store. Family owned and operated for what seems like my lifetime now - and probably, actually has been - this is a store where you are greeted like a friend, the employees are treated well, the staff is knowledgeable, and you'll find fabrics you won't find in other stores. They really go out of their way to curate a beautiful assortment of fabrics, and natural fibers abound. Their shirtings are wonderful, and their wools and cashmeres are absolutely TO DIE... Look to your right, behind the wall near the register. Check out the fabrics that hang there. I mean, seriously, have you ever...? I know! They also sell silk tulle, cotton lace, washed linen, necktie fabrics, very classy printed cottons, silk velvets, and I could just go on and on... They also have lovely ruffled organza strips attached to netting, sold by the yard! What a great way to make those puffy, lightweight skirts for gowns that have become so popular! And they have the best quality denims you are likely to find in the area.  Just don't expect them to have too much time for you... they do have a constant flow of industry types to serve as well.

For the fancy lace seeker:

Sposabella Lace
252 W 40th Street  
New York, NY 10018

If you are doing bride, pageant, formal, or really fancy, embellished, formal menswear, this is the place for you.  Don't expect to collect swatches here, and go in ready to discuss what you are looking for; there isn't much looking around happening in this space. They do have beautiful things you won't find elsewhere. And, if nothing else, look in their windows at the entrance of the store.  They are the masters of creatively wrapping beautiful lace on dressforms in ways that will positively melt you.

For the creative fabricaholic:

NY Elegant
222 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018

Why should you go? Actually, you'd need a good reason not to go.  And I can't think of any. Take a deep breath before entering.  In this store, you will find a wonderland of fabric.  A wide variety of price points and quality levels can be found here, but there is so much that will excite you.  This place has got it all.  The best of their selection are the stretch jerseys, the bamboo fabrics, their wide assortment of silks, the upstairs coating and home furnishing fabrics, their novelty denims, canvas and twills... and the fabulous specialty fabrics at the front of the store will excite your imagination. Expect to spend some real quality time in here. (pssst... they also have Missoni knits... ooooh...)

For the fashionista:

225 West 37th Street 
New York, NY 10018

When you get there, you'll think, "Am I in the right place?"  The elevator procedure can feel a bit like the entry to a prohibition SpeakEasy, but I assure you, you're in the right place.  You'll be asked to check your bag.  Be prepared.  You probably watch Project Runway, and are excited to come to this famous store.  I get that. You may trip over a film crew or two as you search (often in vain) for whatever you came there for, or a person to help you find it.  Not a place to go if pressed for time. For me, on one particular day, a somewhat frustrating experience, for not-so-interesting fabric, at higher-than-expected prices, but definitely worth it, if that's what you wanna see...
Note: I've been back since, and your experience kinda does depend on you "Mood"! Ha! I stick to my point about not going if pressed for time and stressed out. Those two don't go together well anywhere, but definitely not here, where you might occasionally be asked to wait while they are filming.

For your tools and supplies:

Steinlauf & Stoller
239 West 39th St. 
New York, N.Y 10018

Everything you are looking for, when it comes to supplies.  Interfacings, pattern paper, grommet presses, scissors (sharpening, too!), rulers, threads, chalk, special pencils, pins, boning, hooks, bra cups, shoulder pads, labels... lotsa stuff. A whole range of interfacing types and purposes.  They will shorten zippers to size, explain boning types, all kinds of things.  Whether you get a smile or not depends on the day.  They've been in business since the 40's, and that's obvious. (I mean that in a good way)

Manhattan Wardrobe Supply
245 W 29th St # 800  
New York, NY 10001

A bit off the beaten path, but don't let it fool ya.  Best to schedule this with a trip to a nearby  diner and/or a visit to the FIT Museum, which is always fabulous. This store has all the stuff you didn't know you needed.  I defy you to go in and not come out with at least $50 of stuff, just because! Check their website if you don't believe me.

For leather, suede skins, and related trims:

Leather, Suede, Skins
261 West 35th Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Yup, you have to take an elevator.  Yup, you have to be buzzed in.  Yup, floor to ceiling... nothing but leathers, suedes, ostrich, alligator, etc. Wild colors... creative paradise.  Cool trims. Don't know how to work with leather?  Don't expect them to explain it to you.  Get this book, buy the right supplies, and go from there.

Leather Impact
256 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

You want leather?  They got it.  Nowhere near as interesting as Leather, Suede, Skins, but the location is ideal, if you're already in the area, and aren't trying to get too creative.  Lower prices than Leather , Suede, Skins if you aren't too picky.

To get your buttonholes done for you:

Jonathan Embroidery
256 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

This place is like magic.  They'll make precise, perfect, factory buttonholes for you.  Keyhole or regular. Cheap. Fast.  I've heard a rumor that they will also fuse expanses of fabric for you (great if you are making a coat, for example), but I haven't experienced that personally.  The garment center is full of secrets... By the way, I think that rumor is false.

To get your grommets done:

Steinlauf and Stoller

The woman perched on a little seat right up front in that store?  That's what she's doing.  Putting grommets in things for people.  Custom curtains, bags and garments... she'll also replace or move a jeans button.  Cheap. Fast.

For dance, swim and other stretch:

NY Theatrical Supply/ Spandex House
263 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

My ONLY source for performance stretch fabrics.  If you will dance, run, swim, or otherwise require some help from the fabric to move and breathe, you can find it here. They have powernets you can use for linings that will give you the body f a rock star!  I've used their fabrics for swimwear clients, and tell you, they have the best stuff ever!

For your embellishment/notions/trim needs:

M&J Trimming
1008 6th Avenue  
New York, NY 10018

Floor to ceiling buttons, trims, toggles, sequins, feathers, fur hooks, etc.  Be careful of the prices, though.  Some things are unreasonably high priced compared to stores just a few blocks away. Can't understand why.  Look at other stores first, and only buy what's really special here.

Pacific Trimming
218 West 38th Street 
New York, NY 10018

Be patient.  get comfortable with looking around without asking for help.  I find that you can ask for something, be told they don't have it, and then find it on your own a few minutes later.  They don't seem to be comfortable saying, "There's too much stuff in here!  I don't know!"  Anything from elastic trims to buttons and buckles and flowers and snaps... it's all here.  Great prices.  You'll end up buying things just for the heck of it.

Daytona Trimming
251 West 39th Street 
New York, NY 10018

Lotsa trims, lotsa buttons.  Lettering, pilow forms, novelty zippers.  I've been going to this store forever.  Love them.

109 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

Why you should go:
Plenty of trims, best for the person who loves fanciness and things that sparkle!

247 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

Trimmings and notions. Thread, elastic, etc.  Just go.  And be sure to stop practically next door at...

257 W 38th St # 1  
New York, NY 10018

Get your zippers here.  Don't expect much in the way of customer service, but they do have the greatest zippers I've ever encountered.  Get cushioned elastic (ideal for bra straps) here. Great bra supplies.

Hope that gives you a taste of the garment district.  I could recommend just as many more, but really, who has that kinda time?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sometimes I pray... (Subtitled: My love letter about Faith Ringgold)

Sometimes I pray, and the answer comes flying at me as sure as a lightning bolt. I have friends of other faiths, and friends of no and little faith, but it seems we all feel this common vibration. We all feel inexplicably "guided", it seems. For most people, I understand (and the Bible clearly supports this) that they are relying on faith in a being they cannot see, but, my truth be told, I see God in everything. I don't think I'm alone when I say this. Sometimes I pray, and I can feel the answer(s) as strong a a tap on the shoulder. Not in words, mind you, but just in the form of instructions my heart understands. Not a "yes" or a "no", per se, but more of a "Be patient, you'll see", or an "I've got it under control... lemme work on that. Lay it down and go about your business". And there is a definite feeling of peace that goes along with that. Today's instruction was very clear. WRITE THIS POST. So, I hope it is helpful/ meaningful/inspiring, or at least interesting to those who read it.

Dear Readers,

I am an avid fan-letter writer. Not the kind of fan letters you write to pop icons, but letters of appreciation to artists and authors , mainly. It is something I have always done, and I will NEVER EVER forget how I felt when a fan letter I wrote to a Broadway costume designer when I was 16 was answered in a 4 page HANDWRITTEN letter from the designer herself, full of sage advice and appreciation of MY WORDS to her! Imagine that! (I still have and cherish that letter.)

Oddly enought, it seems that it all comes full circle. By "it", I mean everything that means something to me. To illustrate that point, I want you to notice the references I make to the many "theories" that I've named over the years, and will mention in the paragraphs to follow. One of them is my double-helix theory. I feel that everything in my life keeps circling back on itself, wrapping tighter and tighter as the years progress.

When I think of a double helix shape, I think of DNA. No coincidence that this is the shape that defines our physical makeup, our families, or unbreakable connections... I have always felt, in the very seat of my soul, that we are all leading a shared life. Not individual ones. No, not separately, but a big shared existence. I know I once heard a "Sequoia theory", of which I can now find no evidence on the web or anywhere else, but I do know that it was about these enormous, impressive trees that seemed to stand individually, but when examining the roots of these trees, it was impossible to tell where or, in fact, IF, any of them ended. It was theorized that these trees shared a common root system, with no beginning and no end. This magical idea supports what I have always felt. That this is a shared life.

In the late 1980's, I was a high school student, travelling far (both in my 1.5 hr commuting time and culturally) from my Queens home to the Upper East Side of Manhattan every day. Around 11th grade or so, I started to get really bored in school. Not an ordinary level of boredom. A fierce restlessness tormented me. I was anxious to learn and explore - just not in those particular classes, with those particular teachers. My vocabulary was different, as were my thoughts and ideas. This is not meant as conceit in any way, since I didn't feel in any way "above it all", or "too cool for school", but I was very anxious to get on with the college experience. I was a quick study for most of the standard high school stuff at that point, and truly applied VERY little effort to earn great grades. Both a gift, and a curse. So I would cut classes every now and then. There was no rebellion in it. I also didn't sneak out. In those days, we could walk out the school doors for lunch, or during free periods, no questions asked. Cutting class was easily done by simply not returning after your lunch or free period, and for me, meant time spent in libraries and museums. It included no smoking or secret behavior - just a different (self-guided) educational experience. I really loved the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was within close walking distance of my school, and the most blissfully quiet place on weekdays you could ever imagine. I could spend AMAZING amounts of time staring at the work of Faith Ringgold, among others.

Why did I spend so much time with her work? I was just FLOORED, amazed, and truly excited to think that there was room for this type of work in THAT place. Room for her type of stories... Room for her! And to experience her work was just magical. I know I sought to see her work everywhere it hung. Her artwork really resonated with me, and I felt a vicarious pride at seeing it grace the walls of an institution that took art so seriously. As an African-American girl, who hadn't really led a particularly African-American life, I was intrigued by how INCLUDED her work made me feel.


Stopping here for a moment to mention that today, I visited her Facebook fan page. After all, I am a bit of a groupie, and I do keep up with any exhibits or events with which she might be associated, that I might be available to attend. Well, on her Faceboook fan page, there's a link to a recent talk she gave at Lesley University, which was over an hour long, just waiting there for me to watch it. So I dropped everything, and watched it.

Today I learned that while I was staring at her work as it hung at the Met, she was staring at Picasso's work at MOMA. Apparently, we are cut from the same cloth (insert rimshot here) so to speak.

I am not an artist.

I used to keep an idea journal with me at all times, jotting down thoughts and ideas as I prepared for... who knows what? They were always pretty light, quick notes surrounded by white space... but the bits of info represented my BIG IDEA moments, when thoughts would strike me with force, compelling me to write them down. I stated very specifically that I am not an artist many times. Why was it so important to say that? Who was I talking to? In college, I wrote a paper for an African-American studies class, focusing on AfroAm women artists and their reluctance to call themselves artists. I was blown away by the quality of these work of the women I interviewed, and almost without fail, when asked to describe themselves, the answer came back as a professional title. "I'm a nurse", "I'm an elementary school teacher". Somehow they learned that the answer is whatever results in a paycheck. For me, I had to keep reminding myself that I was not an artist, because, in fact,
I AM an artist.
But here's the point of all of this rambling... Why did I choose that subject to write a college paper about Black women? Was I really questioning why these "other" talented people were reluctant to define themselves as artists? No. Looking back, I now see that I was looking for permission to call MYSELF an artist. My feelings about it at the time likely reflect my own attitudes. Attending a quality school, pursuing a career in business, I was going to make money for a living, not ART. Right?

Just this week, I finished a project for a regular corporate client of mine, and I realized that I should now be paid as a vendor, and not an individual, since I have been doing more work for them, and they are now becoming my single biggest client. I decided to bite the bullet, get into their system as a vendor, wait the standard 60 days to be paid, so that everything would be as it should when tax time comes. As I completed the vendor form, I found myself answering the questions, "Are you a minority?/Are you a woman?/Are you a small business?" and in just that quick flash, it occurred to me that these seemingly incidental facts are extremely important. I should be claiming and "proclaiming" them, actually. This is no easy feat, after all.

Art was something to do - not to be.
Early in Faith Ringgold's talk I watched today, she makes this point. Women were housewives when she was young. Her mother was a fashion designer who "kept that (talent) to herself". Inspired by Faith Ringgold, and others like her, when my daughter used to tell me she wanted to be an artist (now, age 10), I always replied "You are already an artist. You don't have to earn the right to call yourself an artist." Not monetarily, not in approval.

My daughter's self portrait (age 9). I like the way she sees herself.

Last year, my aunt gave my daughter some books she thought she would like. Among them was Tar Beach, which we have loved and read... but this copy was different. I opened the front cover, and discovered that it was signed! Not just her name, but a note... "All the best", which I took as a little cosmic wink to us. Out of guilt, I had to call my aunt to tell her that she may have accidentally given us something precious, but she knew how happy I was to have it, and considered our promise to take care of it enough. As I write this, my son is looking dreamily at the pictures inside. Me: "Do you want me to read it to you?" Him: "No, I just love the pictures". Next, he'll wanna know why it is on my bookshelf, not his...

There are no coincidences.

Some years ago, 8, in fact, a cousin of mine told me that a friend of hers was curating an exhibit in New York City. Because she knew how much i loved fiber arts and quilts, she thought I would be interested. Well, this friend, also a well-known and amazingly talented quilt artist, with whom I made a very special real-life connection, displayed the work of many other talented artists, one of whom was... you guessed it... Faith Ringgold. And she came to the show! When I was introduced to Ms. Ringgold, it was like meeting a rock star! I was amazed that she was human! After all, she was/is magical to me!

In the talk I watched today, she talks a bit about bridges. I could go on and on about bridges, but take a look at this recent post, and know that recently bridges have been a huge inspiration for my own work. Also, my 8 Year Quilt is nearly done, (wow, has it come to life since then!) and will now have a life beyond the pages of this blog. This is a quilted reinterpretation of a painting my sister created in 1976. Eight years, mostly following an unintentional Kaizen-like philosophy, but it has actually taken my whole life to create.

So, how do I continue on my path? Faith Ringgold breaks down what any artist needs to know, and I'm very happy to know that there are some strong business reasons at work here. Now, I can relate, knowing that it isn't just about making pretty things, hoping someone will notice... and waiting. If you haven't watched the talk, just know this:

- Create a BODY of work. Do lots of work. I totally get that.

- Create an audience. Okay, I get that, too.

- Develop a market. Wow, the hard stuff. A good reason to have a dealer/agent/representative who can remove themselves a bit from the work.

- The work never dies. That's why you make it.

My daughter, at the opening of the Uris center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yes, I brought my daughter. And yes, I asked for a picture.

This post is the truest, from the heart of all the true things I've ever written. It all folds back on itself in an origamic tribute to all the posts that preceded it. Let's see where we go from here...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Manifest destiny (or "Dare to Dream")

This post was inspired by my daughter's bestie's mom. After thirteen years of living in NYC as a single mom, working exceptionally hard to raise her two daughters, and constantly lamenting the unaffordability of it all, she has decided to move to another state. Far away. And she has already BOUGHT a house there. She is scared to go, but confided to me, that once she dared to put actions with her dreams, things started to fall into place. When she told her employer that she was planning to move, her employer said that they would hate to see her go... so... would she consider staying on at her same (NYC) salary as a telecommuter? Wow... What do you think she said???? Yes, of course! She showed me pictures of her new home, and I was over-the-top happy for her and her daughters. Amazing.

So, that inspired me. I dream of better things, too. I have started to imagine the next phase of my life, and asked my kids to do the same. Where do you envision living? What would it look like? What would you typical day be like? If you really allow yourself that, it can actually be freeing.

I am adjusting the course of my business these days. I have found that I have to be very careful about what type of clients I take on, and how I can satisfy their needs and mine in each project. I am also aligning business goals and personal goals, and it really feels "right".

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Funny how inspiration can hit you like a thunderbolt, eh? Today, I was struck by so many wonderful, artistic, inspiring ideas, that my head hardly has room for them all. The morning began with these wonderful net "lawn fairies" someone had photographed on Facebook, and a tidbit about Issey Miyake designing Steve Job's iconic black turtlenecks, and a creative stencil idea from Alabama Chanin. While surfing the web, I became frustrated at not understanding a series of monotonous, seemingly useless artwork by a quilt artist I admire. I HATE when that happens. Someone takes so much time to explain his/her aesthetic, I try to wrap my brain around it... and come up...empty.

This all took place within the first hour or so of my waking up this morning.

Fast forward to this afternoon/evening, while my pea soup was simmering gently on the stove, and I was in a very peaceful state of mind....

Magically wound into my day, was a memory of a Jasper Johns show I saw with my daughter, who was then 7 years old. The show was called "Gray". I thought it truly inspiring, and felt a small wave of pride that I only get when I really feel that I understand something that appears to be truly high-concept, artistically. People were wandering through the show, some stifling giggles, some gesturing and excitedly chattering, some very quietly standing and staring at a sea of gray... I explained to my daughter that all of the reactions she was seeing were valid, and that we were witnessing the power of great art. The people who think the show is ridiculous? They're right. The people who think the show is brilliant? They are right. The people who are working to understand it, and those who "get it"? Also right. The ability to generate that variety of response and fascination from an intelligent audience? Genius.

So, my internet trail led me to a Charlie Rose discussion of the show. Into my life walked the word "Catenary", and the biggest blast of ideas for clothing (That I'm already creating!) that I've had in a long time. The word alone doesn't do much, but the experience of the word, its definition, and its use in Johns' artwork is what gave me the inspiration. I must work on the ideas in my head. Starting now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gratitude and resilience

When I stop and take a moment to pray these days, I can really only think of two thoughts to express. "Thank you" and "Thy will be done". After all, what more is there to say, really? I've been out of the loop for a while, working on a 24h schedule because my mother has been ill most of the summer, and is now recuperating, but needing quite a bit of help in her daily life, so it has been a struggle to stop and get quiet enough to write a post. Today has been surprisingly productive. Now, before I begin a nice pot of yellow split pea soup, I am stopping to post a bit of bloggish comfort.

I just had a big project go south in a miserable way, and it felt awful. But I consistently remind myself that:

Talent is limitless
Energy and time are not
Opportunities to monetize that talent, energy and time is finite

If I am only willing to work on things that are guaranteed a perfect outcome, I am in the wrong business. I have to accept that there are successes and failures.

Resilience is the key.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Using the train from a grandmother's wedding gown, I was able to create a Christening gown for a client's daughter. The grandmother had passed away prematurely, and the mother wanted to have a piece of her mom for this special event. Knowing that the grandmother and granddaughter would never meet in this life, I knew this was meaningful and important for ALL three of them, and it was as if my hands were really inspired to give the dress a new life for this family. When I met the mom, she was early in her pregnancy, so it was more than a year before this project was completed, but I was able to spend those months picturing what I wanted to create. With very little interference *ahem*, direction from the mom, I was free to create what I envisioned, and she was thrilled to pieces with the outcome. The mother just trusted the process, and left it up to me. Fabulous! I met the family yesterday to deliver and try the gown, and it was just perfect. That felt great. She has promised pictures. I hope to get some, with permission to share them.

The threads that tie families together, even beyond death, are so meaningful. An old shirt turned into a teddy bear, a quilt made of beloved, well-worn aprons, a vintage dress given new life... they carry a meaning, a comfort, a message. It is more than clothing, and participating in bringing such messages to life is endlessly satisfying to me.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lacemaking: What we can learn from spiders...

The art of making lace in one form or another has existed from the earliest ages. There are scriptural references to various web-like fabrics, which were made of rude construction, no doubt, but whose general characteristics were identical with those productions of modern skill which have for centuries been known as lace. Homer and other ancient writers constantly mention net-works of fancifully embroidered materials; gold thread-work was nown to thee Romans, and as Egyptian robes of state are depicted upon the tombs of the earlier dynasties as being fashioned from a looped net-work or crochet..."

-The Art of Modern Lace-Making (Butterick Publishing Company, 1891)

In an old Greek story, Arachne (uh-rak-nee) loved to weave. Her weaving was so beautiful and perfect that the goddess Athena got jealous. To punish Arachne, the goddess turned Arachne into a spider. But Arachne still loved to weave, and continued to do so, as a spider...

So, here's my question for the day... if all spiders know how to spin webs (and I assume all do), why don't they consolidate their efforts, and some work on spinning webs, while others gather the prey? Why don't they work together?

A spider uses its own body measurements to make its web, using a very practical and ergonomic design process. The spider starts with the most difficult part of construction -- the first thread, and creates an extraordinary silken net, often as beautiful as it is functional. It is also abolutely unique and personal.

We work to create our own intricate handmade patterns, using yarn, strings or thread and fabric, and our own human hands. There is something very natural about this. Something very real and tactile... Individuality is important. Personal expression, the need to share beauty, and this sense of accomplishment are vital.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Miyake coat... Finished!

Originally posted 10/16/09

Feeling like Kathleen Turner's character at the beginning of "Romancing the Stone", I just completed such a big, long-awaited, satisfying project, that, if I were a drinker, I would pour a glass of celebratory champagne. I never meant to be sewing this coat during the winter weather, but it isn't my fault. Seriously. I am actually right on time, and it is winter that has come early. In this mid-October "coldwave", I am now peacefully transferring my long-awaited coat from the sewing table to the closet. I promised myself that I would not post this until everything about this coat was complete, and now, with buttons on, hem done, final pressing finished, and stray threads clipped... it is ready to wear.

Completion date (10/16/09) Vogue Pattern 2038, issued in 1997, which marks exactly how long I have owned it.

I put this plan into action several (make that many...) weeks ago.

Yes, I'm telling the story backwards. This post is what allows me to release the rest of the posts written earlier in the process. Why? Because it is painful to try to live up to my own timeframe of how long I think each project should take, and trying to resist the urge to work hastily just to proudly post results on the blog. With a finished project, I can confidently and peacefully share the process, with complete knowledge of how things turned out, with a bigger picture appreciation of how it all came together, rather than dwelling on any obstacles I encountered, or minor changes I made... you get the idea. (Written 9/23, with a half-constructed coat)

Okay, so I can't throw it on to go to the supermarket or to run my daughter to dance class, although the shape and fit are casual. Why not? Because, worn with sweatpants or similar garb, this coat can easily go in the "Bag Lady" direction, despite the quality of the expensive fabric used to make it.

This coat took me 3 months to complete. Not because it was so time consuming, but that's how much time it took me to find the free moments where I had enough energy, attention and passion to sew it. I made use of every little inch of creative personal time I could squeeze, and now I'm glad I started in the hottest blast of summer.

What I love about it most, though, is that during this process, I must have put this coat on at least 20 times, and now, with it completed, it really feels like a coat! I have full confidence that this coat will be as warm as any store-bought coat I own, and the weight of the fabric is just right for me.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011


Originally posted 10/27/09

Why is she telling this story backwards?

(Above) A fabulously unusual Miyake design.

I have loved Issey Miyake for a long time, and have a good collection of his patterns, although I've actually only sewn a few of them. Wearing his designs takes a certain confidence in your own artistic interpretation and expression that I think I've had to grow into.

One thing dressmaking has shown me is the amazing variety of body types, dimensions and fit preferences out there. In theory, all clothing should be custom made, but I do realize that it would require a complete re-thinking of how many of us live. As unique as snowflakes, we all navigate different climates, social and professional cultures, physical requirements and challenges, different levels of health, flexibility and body image...

I really marvel at the idea of relatively sizeless wearable sculpture, since my clients, and most people I know, are usually looking to clothe themselves in garments that mimic the shapes of their bodies.

I know Miyake and I are kindred spirits because he co-authored one of my very favorite books about Madeliene Vionnet...

Kimono-making lessons - I was fortunate to have the opportunity to make kimono for kabuki theater early this year. The director had very little to spend on costumes, but knew A LOT about kimono-making, so instead of charging my normal rate, I charged her less, in exchange for lessons and insight. If you have never made one, you wouldn't believe the amout of detail and tradition that govern how a kimono is "properly" made. It is extremely specific, and not something I would recommend trying just for the heck of it. To do it properly (if that is your goal), you have to learn new techniques, and hand-sewing skills. Tradition matters here, and it all doesn't make sense at first... I had to hear a lot of stories before I started to understand. The opposite of the way I usually work, the design of the kimono dictates the fabric, instead of the other way around. Of course, you can always approximate the kimono with modern techniques, but it will be more of a costume version, or a westernized nod to the style of the kimono.

The origami Yoda, pictured above, was an absolute inspiration to this process. Doesn't he look warm and cozy?

I always longed for a winter coat that looked like it was meant to compliment the grey winter cityscape, and I love to be that odd tile in our city's mosaic, so the Miyake coat undertaking was right for this moment. So maybe it took a decade or so, but I finally did it!

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

You can't "just make" a kimono...

Sometimes the details and considerations that go into a project are just astounding. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who id Kabuki Theater here in NYC, and needed practice kimonos for her students. The students were American, with American bodies, and needed custom kimono made. I informed her that I knew nothing about kimono-making, but did have instructions, and would be glad to give it a shot, in exchange for her teaching me what she knew about kimonos. Wow. The hand-stitching techniques, the math, the precise methods for cutting the pieces... it all amazed me. I love that something that looks so simple takes so much skill and knowledge to make correctly. It was a great process.

I am a person who enjoys the process of making things. It feels great to finish and have a happy client, but I really love the designing, thinking, planning, creating... making.Despite my periodic crises of faith, I know that what I do is important to the clients I am able to serve, and it feeds my heart to do it. My next posts will be about my kimono-making experience, and how it led me down a path to my snuggly winter coat!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Putting yourself in another's shoes

Me to my son (age 6): "I wouldn't do that if I were you." My son to me: "if you were me, you'd like what I like, and do what I do"

One of the great challenges when it comes to dressmaking, is understanding that the client's vision isn't necessarily your vision, and what they like, isn't necessarily what you like. There are jobs that should be turned down for this reason. How do you learn that?

The hard way.


Sometimes a client will ask you to create something that you are excited about, and can see clearly in your head. Then, when you create it, the client is disappointed, or says that it isn't what she wanted/expected. Doesn't matter how good you are at your craft, this will happen.

So what do you do? You change it. You listen in a little closer. You figure out a solution that is fair to you both. You try to pull in any lesson(s) you can from the experience. Then... you move on!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Careful creativity

(Originally written 11/15/05)

Tonight, FIVE plus years later, I am turning this same shirt, which still looks brand new (belongs to my husband) into a short-sleeved version. Amazing how long something well-made can last...

I know now, more than ever, that everything, no matter how small, is worth doing well. We all prioritize, and make choices in life, but each time I go to the Met I am reminded that many, many people have created truly beautiful works of art, knowing that they may never be recognized for them. In the Asian art section, there are these tiny, intricate carvings, so detailed and beautiful. That is why I concentrate on a pocket, a cuff, an idea for hours, days, weeks - I am into my second year of a quilt project. And if it is worth it to no one but me, that has to be enough.

Pictured above: the "casual" french cuff - my own invention. Like a permanently upturned cuff with a button and loop closure. The collar of the shirt I just finished - casual and crisp.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen;
pour myself a cup of ambition,
and yawn, and stretch, and try to come to life...

-Dolly Parton, Nine to Five song lyrics

Originally posted 9/28/08, and still true (except for the coffee part... I now have maybe 3 cups a week...?)

I've done it. I actually plugged in, and started using... the coffee maker! A few months without regular doses of coffee, and I've been craving it. As much as I like to keep my counter tops clutter-free, I think this is a necessary contraption right now.

A nine-to-five life sounds like a dream vacation right now... But, the danger is, my workaholic personality would get me so tangled us in my life as a cog, that if I actually had a 9-to-5 (which is a rare schedule in New York City anyway), it would rapidly expand to 9-to-9 somehow, and the rest of the REAL stuff -- connecting, quality time with the kids, conversation, creativity, and other important details of life could whiz past in a blur as my spinning wheel accelerates.

On a rare outing about two weeks ago, with two women I really respect and admire, I found myself listening to their conversation about how stupid and pointless blogging is. "Who reads them, anyway?" they asked. (Guess they forgot... or I forgot to mention... I have one????) Rather than defend it, I just listened, and thought to myself, "Anyone who wants to read something specific, real, not necessarily motivated by the desire to sell you something, or push some agenda... Don't you ever long to read or participate in, appreciate, live vicariously, or just be a fly on the wall for, some one else's life?"

Okay, maybe the blogosphere isn't interesting to EVERYONE. I fully accept that. But it clearly isn't a waste of time, either.

I am a faithful reader of the blog. The writing is so beautiful, I recently decided that there was probably some very astute marketing whiz with a talented team of writers and photographers creating the posts. But, whoa, Hannah has come out of the shadows, and if things are as she claims, this wonderful blog is the work of one exceptionally talented 19 year-old. I love spending time inside her creative brain every few days. Mind you, I've chosen an extreme example of greatness here... but it seems people who dismiss the blogging world don't know what they're missing.

But alas, I'm preaching to the choir, I guess!

Above, my daughter, and my GRAND (or is it "Great"?)niece and nephew. Yes, really!!!

In the weeks since my grandmother's death, I have come to realize a few things... It is only natural to want to slingshot past the accomplishments of my parents. I have been working hard and long at having more, doing more, blogging more and being more, in an endless attempt to build the perfect mom/wife/entrepreneur resume. And why? I have to learn to appreciate that we already have more than enough, and that everything else is just gravy.

My parents did the best they could, considering the opportunities they had. And they did a phenomenal job of that, too. Good gracious -- my own parents couldn't even choose which water fountain to drink from. My Mom-in-law just recently mentioned that the water fountains for "Colored" people in the North Carolina town of her childhood contained warm water. Imagine a hot day in the summer, stopping to quench your thirst with dirty, warm water from that fountain. The water in the "Whites Only" fountains was clean and cold. When my own mother was a child in Cincinnati, she could go to the local pool only on a specifically designated day of the week, after which, the pool would be promptly drained and cleaned, so that it would be suitable for use by White people again the next day. My own grandmother grew up in a town in North Carolina where she was a member of the only Black family living there. The town had a lynching tree.... Can you imagine? A lynching tree? In a town where there are only about seven people who are candidates to be hung there? Can you imagine the pressure?

Wow, when I look at our lives now, I am just AMAZED at how different my children's opportunities and experiences are. Ambition is good, and improvement is always good, but keeping it in perspective adds an attitude of gratitude to the people who, despite daily assaults on their self-esteem, sought to place their hopes and dreams in their children, raise them in an environment full of love and respect, and not harbor any ill-will towards those who treated them like second-class citizens. What a journey that must have been!

Maybe I've come to this realization later than most people do. But it gives a new meaning to a quilt made with pieces of a grandmother's house dress, a grandfather's work shirt, a baby's receiving blanket... It gives a new meaning to the recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, the home remedies that got you back to work/school sooner, the dimples, hair color, or the gap-tooth smiles that characterize a whole line of descendants... It all matters. Much more that I realized.

I will not lament the absence of a 9-to-5. While I don't have an inbox filled with papers needing signatures and projects to complete, my inbox is full of lessons to pass on, children to raise and nurture, and a lot more to learn.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On being American

Sometimes you need to go somewhere else just to find out how American you are...

In 1991, I spent a year abroad in Paris. So odd to have an internship for an oil company in that wonderfully diverse city, and to be looked at with such curiosity whenever I spoke. (long story on how I ended up working for an oil company, since I went there with a fashion goal) For some reason I will never be able to understand or explain, although French is not my first language, when I hear it spoken, I understand almost as clearly as when someone speaks to me in English. When writing, I make spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, but when I speak, for some reason, I sound like it is my mother tongue, with an odd accent that people do not identify as American. I have never been to the Antilles, but that is usually where people guess that I am from when I speak. People tell me that I speak in a way that is poetic, because my word choices are unusually descriptive. because I learned via the Dartmouth Method, I don't speak "translated English"; I have learned to get a feel for the language, and make ample use of inflection and idiomatic expressions to get my point across. It is tiring, though, and I certainly have less t say when having conversations in French, because it takes a lot of work!

In Paris, I first tried to live like an American... I sought out Oreo cookies ($6 a box! In 1991!) and tried to eat meals at odd hours... and it was expensive and stressful. When I adapted to French life, I realized that it was far more budget friendly to live like the locals, taking lunch at noon, having a small dinner, having small pastry and fruit for breakfast, going for walks after dinner... lost 12 lbs almost immediately!

Despite everything wonderful about Paris, I missed home in a way that could never rival the way I feel about Paris. I never knew how American I am until I went there.

When it came to clothing, I loved their philosophy. Great quality. Few items. I wish we Americans could do more of that! To this day, I would rather have just a few great pieces than a closet stuffed to the brim with poor quality stuff. And when you look at cost-per-wear, the cheap modern clothing is more expensive than ever! How did we all fall into this trap?

So I am creating some of the magical pieces for myself that I've been dreaming of forever, as soon as I get some more current projects off my plate. It has been a tough road this summer, fighting energy and mojo to get things done. I'm refueling to regain some speed and efficiency in the Fall!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I often find myself in interesting situations, among people who are foreign to me, and I think "Wow, what a diverse group!" So many times in my life, I haven't noticed that I brought the diversity... that I was the "exotic" in the group.

I remember going with my Dad to my grandmother's Baptist church on that visit to Hot-As-Heck, North Carolina so many years ago, where everyone inside was just so warm and loving, and all of the black people united under one roof, singing the longest renditions of "Amazing Grace" and "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" I had ever heard. In that place were warm smiles, deep hugs, beautiful hats and fancy dresses. "Where did all of these people live?" I wondered. They were absent on the streets, in the stores and neighborhoods we'd seen.

Now, as an older person, I see that all of these people had gotten used to the rules of the town, the patterns and schedules of their neighbors, and the rhythms of these long, long, long songs. I felt I fit in there, but I was very much a "big city girl" to them, and my family made that particular service "diverse", in their eyes.

And diversity isn't always welcome. I'd like to think that everyone wants to inspect and explore other people's surroundings and customs, get to know what makes them "tick", see what things they have in common... not necessarily. Sometimes, it is "Welcome. When are 'ya headed back?" And that has to be okay.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Small Doses

My son was diagnosed with Autism in 2007, and he has since made really ASTOUNDING progress. Some will argue that he may have been misdiagnosed. I disagree. I think we just buckled down and did the work, 27 hours a day, 10 days a week, round-the-clock therapies and carry-over got us to where we are today, with the 6-year old WONDER of a kid we now are so blessed to have in our lives.

Case in point: We live in a busy, bustling NYC environment. There was a time when a fire truck whizzing by used to send our son into a full-on, wild tantrum, from which he found it nearly impossible to climb out, and self-soothe into a peaceful state for at least 1/2 hour or more. I heard about this "Bounce" (Spectrum Connections) set of DVDs, requested them from the library, watched them WITH my son, and WE developed a new plan for these events. When the loud noise would send him into a frenzy, he would say "Break!", and throw up one hand like a stop sign, entitling him to a tight hug for as long as he needed, until he could regain his composure. I didn't care how crazy it looked, frozen in a hug on the street until he was calm again, because I could feel his racing heart gradually slow down, and he was able to tell me when he was ready to resume our activity. Over time, his need for this decreased, and even now, approximately 2 years later, a loud siren will happen, he will look over at me, whispher "Break", and smile, knowing he no longer needs the hug. If I stop and feel his heartbeat, it still races, but he has learned to cope, and now accepts that it will pass.

He is extremely energetic and highly distractible. Despite his highly ADHD behavior, we fought to get him into a regular school for kindergarten in a co-teaching situation (some disabled kids, some not), and he has thrived! His teacher is truly impressed with his progress, and despite her not being allowed to suggest that we medicate him, shared a story of medicating her own ADHD child in an "FYI" (wink, wink) sorta way. She explained that tiny doses could be prescribed to start, and we could gradually find what could work for him, to get him relaxed enough to participate calmly with the other children in a more predictable way. I got it. No, we didn't medicate him. By the end of the school year, he understood what was expected of him, and had achieved his/our/her goals. Beautifully.

The process has been like eating an elephant. Making wedding dresses was great preparation for raising my son... No, really... It was!

If I were to try to make "a wedding dress", I could get trapped in the size of the project, and the work, staring at the dressform, wasting hours, fearing failure, the magnitude of the garment's importance, the pressure of the deadline, and end up procrastinating. Just horrible. This is why I have to think, "Pattern, cut, muslin, fit, fix, cut, sew insides, sew outsides, zipper, buttons, hem..." Small doses gets it done.

I make lists. If I can check each item down a list as I go, it becomes doable, and remains enjoyable! Nothing feels better than to complete a gown for a happy bride.