Make Do and Mend

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A display at the Bread and Puppet Museum in Glover, VT.

As I wrote recently, reading Overdressed caused a big, seismic shift in how I thought about my clothing. In addition to reigniting my desire to sew as much of my wardrobe as possible, it also encouraged me to create a new relationship with my clothes. I love fashion, and I love looking good, but I do not love capitalism, conspicuous consumption, or waste.

I started thinking a lot about how much our relationships with our wardrobes have changed. For most of the last century, people just owned less clothing than folks today. A great example of this is the closet in my old apartment, which was built in 1909. Hangers, having been patented in 1897, were a new invention then and not widely available. Instead, the closet was lined with about eight hooks at eye-level for hanging one’s clothing. That’s it, that’s all you got. I suppose people probably had dressers, too, but have you ever seen an antique dresser? They’re so small by our standards! Point being, people just had less clothing, and what they did have, they liked it more, they paid more for it, and they fixed it when it wore out.

In this spirit, I am trying to come up with strategies as to how I can make the clothing I like the clothing I love, and how to extend the life of all my clothing. Last weekend I did a very small project to make my winter boots much better prepared for a Minnesota winter. I love these boots, they’re stylish, comfortable, and well made, but I found myself coveting the cozy Sorels everyone wears here. (I almost bought a pair of baby pink 80’s Sorels at the thrift store, but decided I already had better ways to spend fifteen bucks- like on, say, food.) So, I dug out some shearling scraps I bought at the fabulous Ax-Man Surplus store last winter and made myself some nice warm insoles. It took about twenty minutes-and it only took that long because the shearling was so thick and fluffy I had to trim it down- and now my boots are so much warmer.

Sometimes it’s much easier to just google things and fantasize about the money you could spend on a new, perfect product. But in real life, nothing will ever really be perfect once it arrives in your home, so you might as well improve the things you’ve already got.

Rosie the Riveter dreams

I can’t really explain why, but I have recently become utterly obsessed with the idea of having a Rosie the Riveter style set of coveralls. Not the girly “We Can Do It!” Rosie we all know, but rather the butch bad-ass of Norman Rockwell.

Clockwise from left: Coveralls from HotsyTotsy on Etsy; Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter; Indigo Solid Denim from Mood Fabrics; Advance 2795.

I’ve long fantasized about making coveralls like the ones Uma Thurman wears in Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of Even Cowgirls get the Blues. Those magical leather coveralls can transform into pants, booty shorts, or a jacket. I can hardly imagine a more practical piece of clothing (perhaps an optional zip-on mini skirt?).

I’ve got plenty of projects on the docket already- a dusty rose colored satin robe, the entirety of Gertie’s new book, and not to mention a million holiday presents. Yet, the idea for a pair of coveralls simply will not leave my brain.

I have realized that it’s going to be almost impossible to find actual vintage ones, seeing as I’m a modern size 14, and it’s very hard to find any vintage clothing bigger than a modern size 6 or 8. So, I’ve decided that I must make a pair. Unfortunately, it’s just as hard to find a vintage pattern! I have found references to a 1940’s coverall pattern, Advance 2795 (charmingly, the pattern was designed by the Bureau of Home Economics, US Department of Agriculture), but have yet to find anyone with a copy for sale, and even if I did, I’m sure it would involve a lot of pattern grading (a skill I have yet to hone).

Because of these issues, I’ve been thinking it would be wisest for me to use a 1970’s jumpsuit pattern. These are relatively plentiful, and with minor alterations could suit the project just fine. I’m most likely going to go with Simplicty 7310, and I’ll plan on adding a more fitted waistband, using buttons instead of a zipper, and making the lapel a lot smaller. The biggest decision is whether to go modern and use stretch denim – which is usually way more comfortable, but less durable – or to stick with stiff, raw denim. Or I could even just go with chambray, I suppose… Decisions, decisions!

I’ll probably start getting supplies soon, but to be honest, I need to make presents before I start investing a lot of time into a project for myself. But I’d like to have it done by spring, because if this garment is successful, I think I’ll pretty much be living in my coveralls by May.

Hi there.

Oh, hello again.
Well, it’s been a long time, but I finally feel the urge to start blogging about sewing again. A year ago I moved to Minneapolis, a place where I knew no one, and where it’s really dark and cold in the winter. Those factors led to me spending a lot more time inside with my sewing machine. My skills improved, and I now feel much more proud of my work, and want to share with the world.

My Singer 301 slant needle machine.

A few other things happened. My old 1980’s Viking broke, and when I found out it would cost $400 to repair, I threw it away and dug out my Grandmere’s Featherweight. Her parents gave it to her when she started design school (though at that time it was Home Economics) at Pratt in the 1940’s. I discovered what a joy it is to sew with a solid old straight stitch machine, and made the decision to never go back to new or computerized models. (This decision was greatly encouraged by reading Male Pattern Boldness.) Recently, I bought a Singer 301, the big, bad sister of the Featherweight, and it, too, has been a pleasure to sew with.

Around the same time as switching machines, I finished reading Overdressed. I found myself so disillusioned with mainstream fashion that I decided I would primarily make all my own clothes, only occasionally buying used items and new accessories (I have bought an embarrassing amount of tights- although it’s actually pretty easy to find inexpensive, Made in the USA tights). Now let me be clear: I don’t actually believe in the “vote with your dollars” philosophy. The state of modern garment production has far more to do with globalization, wage stagnation, and neo-liberal economics than with individual consumer choices. However, I enjoy sewing, and when I see cheap clothing I just see a big light that says “exploitation!”

While I don’t believe my individual choices are going to make a dent in Forever 21’s profits, I get a lot of joy out of making things myself, and I lose the guilt I feel over buying cheap stuff. If others do not have the time or skills to make their own clothing – or the money to buy handmade – I do not judge them. However, I do think that sewing is a wonderful skill that everyone should learn (yes, I’d like to see home economics back in schools- just not divided by gender), and my hope is that by sharing my projects with the world it will inspire others to sew more. I know that reading other sewing blogs has certainly inspired me!

So, all this is to say: I’m back. I hope to post at least once a week. To whomever is stumbling across this, hi, how are you, and what projects are you working on these days?

Craft Talk with Leslie Hall!

If you’re not familiar with the wonderment of Leslie Hall, you’re really missing out. She makes awesome ridiculous music and videos, and is a hardcore crafter to boot. She makes sweet spandex pants that are available at Fat Fancy in Portland. The spandex has it’s own website, and there’s a picture of me and my roommate on the “testimonials” page!

Anyway, she just came out with this new video for her song Craft Talk. This should be the theme song for all crafters!