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!