I made a ham.

Photo Oct 26, 7 26 38 PM

Not the kind that you eat, but it does look like one (hence the name). A tailor’s ham is used for pressing curved seams, like darts. It’s one of those things you don’t know you need until you’ve used one. If you’re an occasional sewer, a rolled-up towel or washcloth will do, and that’s what I’ve been using for the last few months. But a ham is so very easy to make, there’s really no reason not to.

I used instructions from the ever-fantastic Make magazine, though I couldn’t get the pattern to print properly and ended up crafting my own. (Hint: it’s basically a big egg). I was able to make my ham completely out of supplies I already had: a piece of heavy weight printed cotton, a scrap of white velour, polyester batting, and a pair of old wool socks.

Both they polyester batting and wool socks got cut into little pieces to be used for stuffing the ham.

And that, my friends, is why I save things like old wool socks. I don’t hoard every piece of clothing that is no longer wearable, but I’m  careful to save things made out of high-quality materials like wool. Denim is another one: it’s such a durable fabric, even if a few parts wear out, the rest can be used for something else. If you don’t have the tools, skill, or time to reuse things, you can donate them to a creative reuse center like The Scrap Exchange or find a textile recycling program (NYC’s is the absolute best).

And Then There Was Much Working

Ideas are great, but if you get serious about them, there’s a side effect: lots and lots of work. It’s been a few weeks since my I created first prototype dress, and since then I’ve spent many hours tweaking, testing, redrafting, and re-re-drafting the pattern to try to get it just right.

Photo Jul 28, 11 41 24 AM

The sleeve, in particular, have been driving me nuts. Which is funny, because technically this dress doesn’t even have sleeves—at least not sleeves that need to be attached separately. I’ve chosen to design the dress with a very short kimono-style sleeve, which means the sleeve is cut as part of the shape of the main dress, sort of like a t-shape. I love this style because it drapes nicely on the shoulder, feels loose and roomy on the body, and requires less work in the garment construction.

And all that is well and good, but I have found it surprisingly tricky to finish the sleeves in a way I’m satisfied with, especially since I’m using french seams on most of the dress. (For the uninitiated, this complicates things because every seam gets sewn trice, rather than once, as is typical with a more basic seam finishing.) The sleeve just did not want me to make a nice hem out of its edge. I rolled. I pressed. I basted. I tried a baby hem. I considered doing a bias finish but decided the shape of the armhole – which is sharply angled where it meets the side seam – would make it just as troublesome as the other options.

After cutting and sewing something like six test versions, I settled on a basic 1/4″ hem with a slight change of the overall garment construction: instead of sewing the side and shoulder seams and then finishing the armhole (which is typical), I sew the shoulder seams, hem the sleeve edges, and then sew the side seams. This method fully encloses the raw edges at the bottom of the armhole are make a nice strong seam at a point that takes significant stress from the wearer moving around.


Photo Jul 29, 3 13 24 PM

The lesson within all of these details is that this is freaking hard work. Progress feels slow. It’s been a while since I took on a major creative endeavor like this, and I had forgotten that each work in my art portfolio came about after many, many hours in the studio.

Fortunately, I’m loving every minute of it.

First Dyeing Project: Yellow iDye on Flax/Silk Fabric

This week I did my first fabric dyeing. A few years ago my sister and I dyed some alpaca yarn with Kool-Aid (which I later knit into a rather adorable hat), but otherwise I’m a dyeing newbie. I plan to dye, print, or paint the clothing items I’m designing, and this is my first attempt with a flax/silk blend fabric I recently purchased from Organic Cotton Plus.

Hand-dyed yellow flax/silk fabric

Dyed yellow fabric drying in the sun.

For the dye, I used a packet of Jacquard’s iDye in Bright Yellow. I’m actually planning to do most of my dyeing, at least as I start my business, with low-impact fiber reactive dyes, and then hopefully learn to work with natural dyes when I’m done with the initial clothing design and production (for reasons I’ll have to discuss in a future post). I had a couple of packets of iDye on hand, though, and it’s supposed to be relatively low in toxicity and easy to use for immersion dyeing, so that’s what I chose for my first dyeing attempt.

Basically, the process involves heating a giant pot of water, dissolving the dye, adding the fabric, adding salt or vinegar to fix the dye into the textile fibers, and then heating and stirring for 30 minutes. After the dye has set, you rinse the fabric in water and then wash in the washing machine.

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The finished fabric was an incredibly deep, bright yellow with a hint of green in it. I have a trench-style rain jacket in almost the same color, and friends have said they can pick me out in a crowd 150 feet away. Yellow is one of my favorite colors, but this one is unusually bold and stunning.

Done Dyeing

Fabric, done dyeing in the pot. The photo looks over-saturated, but I assure you, the yellow is nearly that bright in real life.

However, I found the near-constant stirring over heat and copious amounts of water usage a bit annoying, beside the fact that I’m not too keen on messing around with permanent dyestuffs in my parents’ impeccable kitchen. Fiber reactive dyes (like these from Dharma Trading) apparently don’t require heat and so don’t have to be used in a kitchen, which is just one of the reasons I’m choosing them over something like iDye.

I think I’m going to use the finished yellow fabric to try out a new dress design I’m working on, and then probably keep it for myself. In the meantime, it’s just lovely to look at.

The Many Lives of Lawn Chairs

A few months ago I went to Boston to visit my friends Stephanie and Marc. Both were classmates and neighbors when I was in graduate school at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and they still live just down the street from the apartment I inhabited from 2007 to 2011.

One evening during my visit, Stephanie and I were walking down to the local grocery store to pick up canned tomatoes and ricotta for dinner’s lasagna, and we passed these blue chairs:

Blue Lawn Chairs

A couple of beat-up plastic lawn chairs on a city sidewalk wouldn’t usually be notable, except these chairs looked familiar. I stopped for a closer look, and then I recognized them: they used to be my plastic lawn chairs. In fact, they were one of my first thrifty DIY projects, circa 2005, when I lived in Durham, North Carolina. It had been over three years since I had last seen them. Hello, old friends.

I originally found the chairs much in the way I encountered them that evening in Boston: discarded by someone on the street. I brought them home, washed them off, and decided to cover the dirt and mildew that refused to relinquish its hold with royal blue spray paint. After three coats they looked bold, shiny, almost new. They looked particularly nice on the porch of the yellow Arts and Crafts bungalow I lived in one year.

Eventually I moved to Boston to get an MFA, and the chairs came with me. The paint had chipped in a number of places, but they still made a nice place to sit and sip a beer on the back deck.

A few months after I graduated, I got ready to move again, this time to New York City, and the chairs were expunged from my collection of personal items along with many, many other things that would not fit in my new apartment. They weren’t the sort of thing you could imagine someone paying money for at the moving yard sale, so on the curb they went.

I guess someone else picked them up, and I guess that they used them, until three and a half years later when they decided to get rid of them. And once again, the pair of lawn chairs found themselves on the curb.

I makes me happy to think of the many lives those two lawn chairs have had, passed along in the curb-furniture economy; the multiple households that took them in, the barbecues and birthday parties and lazy beer-drinking get-togethers they participated in. I hope they get a chance to for a few more.