Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Hemline Adjustment Skirt (and a top, just for fun)

“Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening,” said Coco Chanel.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a slave to fashion, but I would say that my clothing has to be a slave to my life. Long before I started sewing clothing, I was fairly practically minded with my sartorial choices. Shoes had to be walkable. Clothing had to work in various situations. My most pervasive question for any shopping experience was, okay, but where will I wear that? If anything, I have to say, I’m more willing to take a risk now that I’ve started sewing than I before I sewed.

Through sewing I have tried new styles, like my current Indian lifesaver, a style I honestly never though I would be into, the Maxi-dress. I made my first of these two years ago, but it wasn’t until I was planning my move here to Mumbai that I put my maxi creation into high gear, and since I’ve arrived here I’ve already made three, (posts to come, I promise).

Perhaps that’s in some ways counterintuitive, because I work so much harder for each piece of clothing now than I ever did before (although sidenote, trying to find something worth buying from my college Urban Outfitter’s store’s sales section WAS in fact work, don’t get me wrong) but I somehow don’t mind trying new styles and sometimes making things which I know I might never wear again for one event or as a Halloween costume. Maybe it’s because I value  my labor very little, or maybe it’s because the process is enjoyable for me so if the product isn’t re-usable I don’t mind giving it to a thrift store to be a staple in someone else’s life. Generally I try not to do this, because I think it’s wasteful, so I try to find things a home with a friend first, but I figure if someone else can get something out of my clothing, why not.

But beyond those rare exceptions, and experiments which have mixed results, I do find that functionality is my watchword, with life, and with clothing. My shoes are all bought on the basis of walkability, and my clothing is stitched based on how wearable it is, how it will fit into my life and what I need to do day-to-day. This can be, in its way, a little limiting. In the period of my life when I was biking to work I was, consequently, not churning out pencil skirts. Obviously we all sew for the seasons, the climates we live in, the times of year and materials that we crave.

Sometimes sewing this way ends up helping people out. In the dead of winter I often construct beachey wear for my mom to take to Puerto Rico. For a vacation to Morocco my friend Emily needed tunics and pedal pushers, not the normal things she would have usually asked me to make her, and I was able to whip up some options without her filling her wardrobe with store-bought options she would never use again.

And now that I’m here in Mumbai, functionality has taken on a different meaning. Dressing for a different country, especially one that has different standards of modesty and different expectations of women than the country from which I’m coming, is a challenge. I’ve written the first of many exhaustive (I anticipate) perspectives of this over here, so you are welcome to check that out if you chose to do so. Look, I didn’t move to a tiny village somewhere like this lady, I’m in Mumbai, which is, frankly, comparatively a safe and easy city for women in which people dress in all sorts of ways, and while a majority of people I see on the street are dressed in Saris and Salwar Kameez (does anyone know how to make that plural? Asking for a friend), there are a surprising amount of ladies in shorts out there, not to mention skirts, dresses, capris, and everything in between, in Indian and Western styles and fabrics. But I still consider my wardrobe carefully before I leave the house, not just because people around me might be conscious of it, but because I want to be comfortable, but still look like myself. This isn’t a vacation, but it’s not New York, either. I have to find a way to make the look I like work for me.

Hence my hemline adjustments. The Hemline index may not be a viable economic theory, but for me, hemline adjustment is a cultural move anyway, so I don’t mind all that much.

HA 5

As I said, the maxi dress and I have a back and forth relationship, we are the Sam and Diane of outfit-person pairings, sometimes wildly in love, sometimes at complete odds. So while I’ve grown more into the look, I still need other things. We are in an open relationship, let’s say. And as a short person, I think for me a kind of modified tea-length, maybe let’s call it iced tea length? doesn’t look too shabby, and it solves a lot of my open rickshaw exposure concerns. HA 2

This skirt is self-drafted with big box pleats to use the most of this fabric, which I found on my second fabric shopping expedition in Mumbai to Mangaldas Market (SO much more on that in its own post) and just adored.

HA 8

AM I RIGHT? You can’t see it but the background has a kind of cool scouring thing going on too, so it’s just idea. Planes plus color all for less than 5 US Dollars a meter? WHICH IS EVEN LONGER THAN A YARD? I want to go to there.

HA 3

See, it’s not quite tea length, but it’s not knee-length either, it’s in a weird in between space, otherwise known as where I like to live. It was a very basic construction, pleat, stitch, add a waistband, zipper, buttonhole, hem. BOOM. Hemline? Adjusted.

HA 4

Oh, I also made the shirt. It’s a Grainline Scout T. I’ve made at least 5 of these. Can’t stop, wont stop. It’s a woven t-shirt. What’s not to love? I made this in a silk twill with a really light weight, it’s just heavenly and breathes beautifully in the sticky Mumbai heat.

HA 9

In this photo I think you can see the weave better. It’s just lovely.

HA 1

And there you have it, one step towards a Mumbai uniform.

What about you? Have you changed how you’ve dressed or, more importantly, what you’ve stitched when you moved somewhere new? Or when you’ve gone somewhere new? How much do you think about the clothing culture you’ve entering when you travel or move? Does it alter across your country or within your state? Inquiring Leahs want to know.

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Clothing, Grainline Patterns, Self Drafted, Sewing, Travel

The Russian Goodbye Dress

Having just moved, I can assure you, there were many things that were hard about leaving New York. The most important thing about any place is, for me, the people who are in it. I realize of course that this is not a revolutionary statement, but sometimes the hallmark clichés come true, and you can deny it or you can suck it up and deal. Places are their people. They are their spaces and their streets too, of course, their trees and their paths, but they are their people. And the people I have in New York were hard to leave.

For me, New York was a new and sometimes difficult change, leaving my beloved Philadelphia, going to graduate school, altering the landscape of my life to include new things and new balances, new stresses and new needs. Left to my own devices I might be a bit of  hermit, curling up with my cat and my television and a bottle or five of wine, but New York did not permit that from me. Quite simply, there were too many people I love there, too much to do, too many things I had to be a part of, that I was forced by the magnificence of my community there to become a better version of myself. So many of these people helped me celebrate my homemade garments, photographing them, complimenting them, making fun of them when they weren’t quite right, mostly in kind ways, but sometimes the truth hurts. My friends in New York also benefited from my craftiness, they must admit, receiving homemade gifts and sometimes even posing for this blog.

Leaving New York doesn’t mean losing these people. But it does mark a new chapter in my life, just as coming to New York did. In Brooklyn I found new levels of independence in the new ways I understood myself. I became a better writer, through training, through experience and through contact with others. I met new people and deepened my relationships with known entities. I fell in love. I wrote plays, screenplays, television scripts, a novel. I surprised myself, I disappointed myself, I thrilled myself. I had late nights and early mornings, drunken revelries and sober contemplations. I explored neighborhoods alone, sometimes relishing my solitude, sometimes painfully lonely in the midst of crowds and bodies. I learned to love and hate the subway, becoming an expert in stations and exits, across-platform transfers, avenues and winding streets. I crossed bridges over and over again, in and out of different territories.

I stayed close to home, linked by buses and trains and time zones, able to sit in the house my mother designed at the merest suggestion of homesickness. I became bound up in my life, content with the complications, confusions and cat hair that Brooklyn apartments afforded me. I knew what things meant, not just their literal meanings but their significance, what it meant to live in Astoria, in Williamsburg, to work in publishing, to be in finance.

There were also a thousand things I didn’t know, and still don’t. The best bike route to Greenwood Cemetery, or the best restaurants on the Upper West Side, or the vast mysteries of the Bronx. There were so many things I didn’t do, things I wanted and things I resisted, things that a seasoned New Yorker would scoff at and a tourist would mock. I never went to the top of the Empire State Building, in fact, I think I only passed by the building once. I’ve never had a bagel from Zabars, or a knish from Katz’s. I’ve never ridden a subway line from end to end, or been to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.

If I think of the things I did versus the things I missed, the people I spent my time with versus the distance between us now, physically, my life starts to feel both full and empty at the same time, but I can only content myself with the fact that life is long, and being in India doesn’t mean never going back to New York (or more importantly, Philadelphia) again. It’s not an exclusion, it’s just opening up my circle, making my world bigger. I haven’t lost things, I’ve gained them. I hadn’t lost people, we just have to communicate in different ways, spend time together in different senses.  Still. Even if it’s just for a bit, it’s hard to say goodbye.

My love for Brighton Beach is well documented, and so when I was up in New York for a last time in a while, and my friend Becca (hi, Becca!) asked me what I wanted to do, Brighton Beach was on the list. Becca, lifelong New Yorker that she is, had never been. So that was it. We trudged out to the world of Russians and lost ourselves for a few hours. All I could think about was the first time I came to Brooklyn, and how I had forced my friend Emily to come to a play with me all the way in Manhattan Beach, which is even more remote than Brighton. We had walked through the neighborhood together and stopped for pelmeni before the show.

I am a big believe in symmetry. I wore a homemade outfit then, and I wore one this last time too. As Becca, ever obliging, snapped my photos, I realized that the dress I was wearing was born of some of my friends, a handful of the people I love in New York. Becca photographed it, Emily bought me the fabric as a Hanukkah gift, and my friend Victoria’s mother sent the buttons along in a box of sewing supplies the previous winter. I had made each girl a dress when they were the bridesmaids at my recent (second) wedding. It only seemed fair that they, in a way, had made me one, too.

I suppose I should move on from the sentimentality into the stitching. If I talked about all the feelings I had leaving my friends in New York I would be here forever. And this isn’t even touching on all the emotions I felt and feel leaving my family in Philadelphia. But leaving is perhaps the wrong word for what happens when life changes. Here in India a popular world to use for moving is shifting, as in, I shifted to my new apartment, I’ll shift to that chair, can you shift this fellow for me (the last being my brother-in-law’s response to Cadfael’s communal space mentality). So I did not leave, I shifted, just a slight adjustment, relative to the infinity of time and space. After all, leaving feels so very permanent, but shifting? Shifting happens all the time.

 

To the dress:

 

RG 1

 

This little beauty (if I do say so myself) is McCalls 6696, a shirtdress upon which to build a dream. This pattern is all over the internets, and I have made it once before after being wildly inspired by Dolly Clackett and Idle Fancy . This time I wanted to try the slimmer skirted option, both for the sake of variety and because I only had 2 yards of this glorious Liberty Lawn. The 60 inch width meant that I could still get this whole shirt dress out of it, though, such is the wonder of Liberty. Thank you, Emily, a thousand times.

RG 3

I stitched up a size 14 (28 inch waist) with the choose your own cup size in a D. The fit, as previously, was good, and I like the style a lot, although I’m not sure if the pockets are cute or emphasize my not-insubstantial hips.

RG 4I made one alteration to the pattern, which was on the back piece under the yoke. Dissatisfied with the puffy nature of my last attempt, I took 2 inches out of the back in a wedge, and turned the gathers into a pleat. I prefer it, although part of me misses that vintage touch. Oh, well, next time I will see if I can take out a little gathering but still maintain the idea of the gather. Conceptual clothing, people.

RG 2

 

See, with my arms down the pockets lie beautifully flat but when I’m moving or speaking or breathing, they sort of poke out. So I guess I have to…not do any of those things.

I do love these pick-your-cup-size patterns, they just make sense. Women run the gamut of bust sizes, shouldn’t our patterns do so too?

RG 5

My lovely collar got a little wind-swept but I assure you, it came out well. And look at that fabric! And the buttons! And the photographs!

RG 6

Sewing is a solitary habit, just like writing. But I know that wherever I go, or shift, I can look at the things I’ve made and see the people who made them possible, through gifts and photos and just telling me I look nice in them. And that, at least, is something I never have to leave behind. Thank you, to everyone who reads and gives and helps and puts up with my sewing related chatter. I love you all, and I’m taking you with me as I shift around.

So now I’m learning Mumbai, and you can expect Indian hellos to follow this Russian Goodbye. Fewer fur hats, more goats. Both cities have a beach, though, at least there is that…

3 Comments

Filed under Life, McCalls Patterns, Sewing, Travel

The Pre-Wine Tunic

I’m working with a serious backlog here, so despite the fact that I’ve already moved to Mumbai, you’re going to see some US posts for a bit, sorry, guys. In the mean time, feel free to check out my new “living in India” blog here!

So you know what I love? Wine. Super a lot. A whole bunch of it. I know, you’re shocked, you’re amazed, you feel betrayed and horrified. I’m sorry. But the person who taught me how to love wine was my mom, who is the best. And we love wine together. So this summer, in anticipation of both of our birthdays, which fall in July, and my upcoming move, my glorious wine-goddess mother and my wine snob brother and I went west, to Napa, in a long anticipated wine tasting trip. I, of course, am an indiscriminate wine lover, so I will drink most things as long as they are on the dry side and not the last harvest sugar rush that some people call Riesling. But this was magnificent wine, in a magnificent setting, and I was so happy to be there. And so I figured I should make something cool to wear, to celebrate.

Now, here is the thing about Northern California, right, you just never know how the weather is going to be. You can go from warm to cold to warm again within hours, so packing for a weekend trip includes more clothing than you might bring for a weeks journey somewhere else. So in trying to make something that worked, I had to figure into account the weather, as one does. I also had to figure in the wine, and how when you start tasting wine you are like la la yes notes of sage and melon and concrete, but by the end you are like, this wine tastes red and I like red do you have more wine that is red or more wine that exists? So in the end, I decided this tunic would be best for a jaunt to Berkeley for a splendid meal at the illustrious and magnificent Chez Panisse during which the wine would be white and the sloppiness factor mitigated by decorum. And I will say, I planned this perfectly. This was a great shirt for pre-wine times. See why?

PW 4

Ugh, that face. It’s saying, why am I standing in this corpse of trees like I didn’t ASK FOR THIS MY OWN DAMN SELF. But that shirt though, right?

So it’s the Everyday Elegance Top from Patterns for Pirates, which I raved about the last time I went to the West Coast. I guess I feel like this is a really West Coast look, I don’t know, things are horribly causal out there, what can I say?

PW 3

The fabric was something I bought at Parons Fabrics years ago, some of which I made into a dress for my friend Betsy’s wedding, and some of which became this tunic. And extra scraps became a baby dress for a friend’s niece, so there you go, circle of fabric. It’s a linen-cotton blend and immensely cool and breathable.

The tunic is super straightforward to stitch up, and I made it all with french seams to counter the fray-leaning fabric and because I like them, what can I say.

PW 5

I did a little playing with stripes on the back, just a little, mind, for fun. I love it!

PW 2

I just realized none of these photos capture the collar, which is a shame, because it’s pretty cute. You will just have to believe me on this, I guess.

PW 1

And there you have it. A tunic that worked before wine, during wine of the white variety, and even after wine. I’m just kidding, There was no after wine that weekend….

PW 7

Otherworldly plants abound out there in California.

PW 6

And of course, tall tall trees. I think they liked my tunic too.

6 Comments

Filed under Patterns for Pirates