Way before any shelter-in orders came down, I had the goal of knitting a sweater a month.
At the beginning of this year I did a major purge of my yarn, which I’ve talked about before. I was still left with quite a bit of yarn and I wanted to actually use it. (Novel idea, right?) I spent an afternoon going through what I had left and put together 18 project packages. That is. I thought about sweaters I wanted to make and then matched it with the yarn and packaged it all together. This way, when I was done with a project I wouldn’t go through my usual angst of trying to figure out what to make next. I’d have several projects to choose from.
Some of my projects are inspired by commercial patterns I have. I say inspired because rarely:
do commercial patterns actually go down to my size
do I have the brand name yarn called for in the pattern.
So I adapt and revise to flatter my figure and work with the yarn I have.
Most of the time I just make my own pattern. Some of the packets have vague descriptions such as “knit top down with chevron pattern.” or a quick sketch to convey my idea.
The end result of this planning is I’ve been able to move from one project to the next wasting little downtime with “what will I make next?” I’m happy to say I’m on track and have three sweaters to show before the end of the quarter.
These are weird and uncertain times. When people’s lives feel out of control, they can do some bazaar things, like hoarding toilet paper and bottle water even though we aren’t in any danger of running out of either.
I’m not immune to any of this but I remain positive. We all have a chance to pause – take a deep breath – and reassess our lives. On the other side of this, hopefully, there will be a reorganizing of priorities.
For me, a lack of control in my outer world means going inside. And right now, inside feels like nothing. It’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just what it is. Trying to find meaning in this (because that’s what our brains do), I believe it’s a releasing. That previous thoughts, ideas and beliefs are no longer valid. They need to be let go to make room for something new. What that is, I don’t know – yet.
As I wait in faith that something better is in the works, I turned to the one thing I can trust – the creative process.
I have several projects in various states of completion and plenty more in the queue but a couple of days ago I wanted something different. Something that would tap into my intuition – give it a voice – and help me connect to it. I mean, I live alone, I need someone to talk to.
My friend has a course to create your own oracle deck. I decided to check it out. My focus for my deck would be “great work”. I broke it down into 12 areas: Creativity/Imagination, connection, create, design, alchemy, story, wealth, experiences, bloom, curate, possibilities and nurture.
These aren’t the usual words associated with “work”. I chose these words because they inspire me to do great work. Because it’s what I want to be doing when I do great work. They engage and excite me. They’re personal and that’s their power. I want a great salary, room for growth, benefits, etc. but those will all be part of the perks. Great work, though, is at the core.
There are many ways you can go about creating an oracle deck – draw, paint, photos, collage – I chose the collage route. I love finding words, pictures and phrases that capture the essence of an idea. Fortunately I had some magazines on hand and proceeded to cut out pictures and words.
Once that was done, I cut up some watercolor paper in 4X6 sheets (I would have used index cards but this was what I had on hand) and proceeded to create mini vision boards for each of my chosen words. It took me 3 days to do this, often having to go back to the magazine pile to fill in the blanks.
I’m sure I’ll make more cards – mainly because I enjoyed making them. Creating them reminded me of what I love to do, what feeds my soul and how I want to engage in the world. I’ll tap into their wisdom, which is really my wisdom. After all, I was the one that created them and I believe each choice I made was directed by my higher power. There’s a reason I picked each image and word.
Plus, it’s creative and fun – a good way to distract that reptilian brain of ours scaring us into hoarding toilet paper to relieve the stress.
There once was a time when I had two rooms – TWO DEDICATED ROOMS – for all my creative stuff.
These pictures are of my last studio space. I had a workroom – sewing machine, serger, cutting table – right next door. Plus I had two closets packed full of storage. I loved those rooms.
In an ideal world, my studio would be a totally separate building – preferably a tree house. It would have tons of windows, one wall would be a bulletin board and another a white board. It’d be filled with yarn, fabric, books, art supplies and people. It would be a private space for me to create and a public space for me to teach, learn, collaborate and share. It would be heaven.
Right now, though, my apartment is about as big as those two rooms I used to have. I still have plenty of fabric, books and yarn, but nowhere near as much back in the day. I’ve become a lot more discerning about what stays – partly because I don’t have the space – but mainly because I outgrew the need for it.
Pattern books got weeded out as I realized I could draft any of the patterns in those books. For years I used those books as a crutch, thinking I needed them to make anything. But my skills have grown, I’m confident in my knowledge so most of the books I kept are about technique or have stitch patterns.
I also Marie Kondo’d my yarn and fabric. I was hanging onto yarn that wasn’t fun to knit with, the colors were all wrong for me or uncomfortable on my skin. I finally decided I deserved better. Anything worthy of my time needed to be something I would enjoy working with, would feel comfortable wearing and would look good on me. Each skein of yarn or yardage of fabric had to “spark joy”.
This was quite a revelation for me. To be honest, I’ve been a bit of a hoarder when it came to yarn and fabric. When people find out I knit or sew I get gifted a lot of fabric and yarn. I figured I could always find something to make with it. It dawned on me that my time was precious and limited so why spend it making stuff that wasn’t an absolute WOW. Not that everything I’ve ever made has the WOW factor, but my intention is always to do so. Using stuff I don’t love handicaps my best efforts. I will never turn down free yarn or fabric, I just don’t feel compelled anymore to keep (hoard) it. Nothing ever gets thrown out – I have a network of sewers and knitters so I can always find someone who can use what I don’t want.
My current “studio” is actually my living room. My sewing machine and serger sit in a corner next to my kitchen. I have two dressers storing most of my stuff – notions, fabric and yarn. I’m fortunate to have a lot of storage for such a small space and the rest of my textiles/yarn are in my linen closet or under my bed.
Other essentials such as my cutting table and chair can be folded up and stored out of sight. My mat and rulers are hung on doors (thank goodness for over the door hangers!) I have one bookcase that is overloaded with books and the rest are scattered throughout my apartment – part of the decoration – or tucked away in my walk-in closet.
I am happy with this set up. I live alone so I don’t have to cater to anyone else’s taste or stuff. And seeing my sewing machine, ready to go at a creative moment’s notice, is comforting. Especially right now when “social distancing” is encouraged, having projects of various stages scattered about my apartment is keeping me productive and sane.
No matter how big or little your home is, you can always carve out a space for your creative endeavors. Maybe it’s a closet, maybe it’s a storage bin under the bed. Maybe it’s just a tote bag with all the essentials. Making things is part of who I am. It’s in my DNA as an Empress (it’s my archetype) so having my sewing machine in the middle (well, corner) of my living room is as natural as having a T.V. (except I don’t own a T.V.) Even when I have a dedicated studio, there will always be a basket of yarn and needles by my chair, ready to be picked up as I relax after a long day.
As promised, today I tested my Boho blouse pattern I drafted from the Spring 2014 issue of Sew Stylish.
Let’s just state the obvious, it’s not a boho blouse. It’s more of a relaxed t-shirt.
It was a simple sew since there are only 3 pieces to cut out: the front, back and neckband.
I used a knit fabric that doesn’t have a lot of stretch. Still, I stabilized the shoulder seams with a bit of lace seam binding to reinforce them. I sewed the shoulder/upper sleeves and then sewed the side/underarm with a wide stitch length. Then I went back and serged them.
Why both? Because the seam guide on my serger is kind of wonky – you have to eyeball it. And, this fabric moves around a lot so sewing it first made it easier.
For the neckband I followed some advice I learned in a class about sewing knits. I measured my neckline which was 30″. I cut a 2″x 28″ strip from the same fabric and sewed it into a tube so the finished length was 27″ or 90% of the neckline. Then I folded it in half, wrong sides together and serged the raw edge.
Next,I divided both the band and neckline into quarters, marking it with pins. With right sides together, I pinned the band, matching up each quarter and sewed it down. By having 10% less fabric in the band and gently stretching it as you sew it onto the neckline you prevent the neckline from stretching out. Then using a twin needle, I topstitched around the band, using the seam line as a guide so that it was between the stitching.
I used a 1/4″ double sided fusing tape on my hem to get a crisp edge and then sewed it 1/2″ from the end with a twin needle. It was up in the air whether or not I’d have enough thread to finish the job but I made it.
What do I like and don’t like about the shirt/pattern:
As a pullover, the neckline is still a tad bit too wide for me,
As a pullover, it was too long. I cut off four inches.
If I leave the length, I would draft it more as an a-line shape so it hung away from the body.
I would smooth out the curve from the shoulder to the top of the sleeve. You don’t notice it in the picture because it hangs nicely right where the shoulder meets the arm but there is a bit of a “step”.
I might draft the armhole deeper and make the curve from the sleeve into the side seam shallower.
Overall, it’s a solid piece and will be a good starting point for many other designs.
For the past week I’ve put on my daily to-do list – start new sewing project. So how many sewing projects have I actually begun?
Zero. Zip. Zilch
My excuse? I can’t choose one. I have so many ideas competing for my attention, it’s hard to pick one. Then I get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing.
I have no plans this weekend and decided I was going to finally start that sewing project. I asked myself, “What do I need the most?” I actually need tops and warm weather dresses.
I felt drafting a basic bodice block was a good place to start. With that I could do all sorts of tops as well as dresses, since all I’d have to do is add a skirt, which is easy.
I have the book Sew Many Dresses by Tanya Whelan which is a mix-and-match type of pattern book. In it you have the patterns for different bodice types (such as halter, basic, princess), skirts (A-line, straight, six panel, dirndl), sleeves and necklines. Given the price of patterns these days ($15-$20), this book is an amazing value. I figured I’d use her basic bodice pattern as a starting point.
About halfway through all of this I remembered I had drafted a basic bodice a long time ago. Did I still have it somewhere? I pulled out my pattern pieces and – miracle of miracles – I kept it.
Whelan’s bodice was designed for a 32 inch bust and a 24 inch waist (which ended up being a little under 22″ when I measured the pattern…you’re suppose to have at least an inch ease at the waist. Patterns can be wrong which is why it is so important to make a practice garment.) I have a 32 inch bust and a 26 inch waist. No problem, I did a little math and added what I needed to the side seam of the front and back pattern.
I decided to cut out both bodices to compare them – the one from the book and the one I drafted who-knows-how-long-ago and sewed them up.
It was then that I realized my problem. It’s hard to fit a bodice on yourself. You really need another person. Just trying it on without being able to check the back, my hand drafted bodice fit better. An obvious solution is to put in a zipper so I can get a completed garment and I may still do that. But even if I do, I won’t be able to mark any corrections for obvious reasons. I’m putting this project on the back burner until I have an extra pair of eyes and hands.
What to do in the meantime?
I have a top I drafted from the Spring 2014 issue of Sew Stylish. It’s called a Boho blouse. It’s just a kimono sleeve top with a drawstring waist. I changed it up a bit. I’m not putting in a drawstring, I lengthened it, brought in the neckline (because I don’t like my bra straps showing) and didn’t put in as much ease. Also, I’m using a knit instead of a woven.
I don’t know why I didn’t start with this top from the get-go. I like the ease of it and if you look at a lot of styles today, they are loose and drapey. Also, the pattern is basic so I can vary it. I can change it so it has raglan sleeves, use a different neckline, make it asymmetrical, make it into a dress, add a center or side tie at the hem – which is on trend right now – cut the center front and make a kimono or any number of other variations.
I’m putting my sewing aside for the evening and switching to knitting for the evening. Tomorrow I’ll cut out and sew up my version of the Boho blouse and see what I think about it. If it fits how I want, I’ll play around with other ideas.
Driving home yesterday I had the option of sitting in traffic or taking a detour to JoAnns and sit out the rush hour in peace. It was a no-brainer.
I’ve been looking at patterns, in particular for a halter sundress. I’d done preliminary research online so I hunted down those patterns. They were also having a sale on Vogue patterns so I figured why not check those out.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life relying on “experts” to tell me what to do and how to do it, whether in business or sewing. Something happened in my life, I don’t know what it was, it could have been a series of events, I internalized the story that I was”wrong” and other people were “right”. So I listened to the other people and tried to do it their way. And when it didn’t work for me, I assumed it was my fault. Is it any wonder I lacked confidence?
As a result, I became a rigid rule follower. I never noticed until this year just how many “rules” I had and how much they were holding me back. I wrote in my journal:
When did I absorb, for lack of a better word, all these rules? I don’t ever remember getting a rule book yet as I dig deeper into my beliefs, my stories, I am discovering all these “rules” – about jobs, rules about money, rules about what I can and can’t do, rules, for crying out loud, about drawing!
I sat in that store for an hour, looking at hundreds of patterns and I finally came to the conclusion that
Patterns are expensive!
I have the tools, skills and knowledge to make anything I want. I don’t need to rely (or pay for) anymore “expert” advice.
I’ve been sewing for almost 50 years, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and experience. I didn’t get any patterns but I didn’t come out of that store empty handed. I left with a new sense of appreciation, trust and confidence in myself and my abilities, after all, I’ve been making my own knitting patterns for years.
I wasn’t kidding when I said this just wasn’t about pretty clothes. Simple things aren’t so simple. We have so many stories tied up in things that seem so innocuous, “rules” that have become so ingrained we don’t even realize we’re following them.
As I work on drafting patterns for my new wardrobe, I’m going to be asking myself a question when I get stuck, here or in any other part of my life:
What self-imposed rule am I following that’s holding me back?
For years, no decades, I have been lamenting over my wardrobe. It seems every year I say this is going to be the year that I finally curate a wardrobe that truly exemplifies my style. But disappointingly, no real progress is made.
This is the year I make it happen.
How is it that I make stuff like this:
Can you tell I’m a child of the 70’s? I love, love, love pattern and color. It makes my heart sing and soul come alive. And yet my wardrobe looks like this:
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the year I decided to become untamed (I just ordered the book by Glennon Doyle after see her in this episode of MarieTV), letting go of the parental and societal conditioning and unleashing my authentic self, is the same year I finally committed to redoing my wardrobe. I want my outer self to reflect my inner self. And my inner self is colorful, a bit loud and sometimes in your face. But she’s also fun, joyful, creative, introspective, nurturing, curious and playful. When she’s excited she talks too much (and maybe interrupts people – apologies – her enthusiasm cannot be contained). Her passion cannot be denied. She’s done with dressing to please anybody but herself. She doesn’t want to fade into the scenery, she wants to be the scenery!
I realize why it’s taken me so long to do this, to embrace this personal project of love and self care. Part of me didn’t think I was deserving. And, the other reason, and it’s going to sound stupid, is even with all the evidence to the contrary, I didn’t know who I was. I mean, I knew, the signs were right in front of my face, but I didn’t see. It seems to be an emerging theme right now – not seeing what’s right in front of my own face. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to see them and now, after three years of playing in a space of total freedom and exploration, I have found the path back to myself. I used to think there was something wrong with me and now I know I was trying to fit into some sort of mold other people created.
This project is more than just pretty clothes. It’s about having the courage to express my true self in the face of judgment and criticism (my own and others), it’s about loving myself unconditionally, instead of believing I need to be worthy or deserving of it and choosing to stand out and be seen and heard instead of politely stepping back into the shadows. I expect reactions to be polarized – some people will love me and what I’m doing. Others might say “who does she think she is?” Either way, I will send out nothing but love.
I’ll be documenting my progress here. Every triumph, every comic failure and every lesson learned.