Sunday Shift at Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh

This week, Sunday Shift made its first debut in a shop, and in store window, at Visual Art Exchange in downtown Raleigh, NC.

Photo Feb 06, 6 16 17 PM

January was the first meeting of the fellows for the 2015 Launch program sponsored by VAE, which includes me and the talented individuals behind six other creative entrepreneurial efforts. We were asked to bring 15-30 new items for the shop, so most of my free time of the five weeks prior were spent dyeing fabric and sewing and sewing and making necklaces and designing tags. I couldn’t have done it without help from my wonderful mom, who holds the position of Official Sunday Shift Vassal (a name she picked, in case you were wondering).

The window and shop display were arranged by the lovely people who run the program for VAE, and they did a fantastic job. I like in particular how the Sunday Shift mohair/silk knitted necklaces look placed with Liz Kelly’s pottery.

It was challenging, but in those five weeks of working, I made nine new garments: shift dresses, tunics, and sleeveless tops. And that feels like a significant accomplishment. Nine garments! In the past, I’d have been thrilled if I made that many items in year. Of course, now it’s time to make more. I just ordered about 20 more yards of fabric – hemp/silk, linen, and organic cotton sateen – and I’m working on a sundress design for the warm weather that’s just around the corner down here:

Photo Feb 08, 11 17 37 AM

Coming soon…

Sunday Shift Progress: Launch and Holiday Markets

Remember back when I said I wanted to have an Etsy store set up by September? Yeah, well, that didn’t happen. That’s okay. One thing I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that product development takes a lot longer than I thought. And I’ve still made good progress with Sunday Shift, even with the full-time job.

Dyeing fabric red

Dyeing fabric in the garage. This is what progress looks like.

One of the biggest accomplishments of the fall is that I was accepted for the 2015 cycle of a program called Launch, a year-long retail incubator sponsored by Raleigh’s Visual Art Exchange (VAE). In addition to the professional skills I’ll be learning, I’m thrilled to have camaraderie of other creative entrepreneurs.

VAE has a shop in the front of their gallery selling the products of current Launch Program fellows, and the 2015 fellows were asked to bring in a few items as a sort of sneak preview of the year to come. I dropped off two shift dresses, one in the smoky hemp/silk blend I described in a recent post and another in a cobalt blue with silk shibori-dyed pockets, plus a few knit necklaces. If you’re in the Raleigh area and want to see or purchase Sunday Shift items in person, stop by VAE during their open hours or during their holiday market on December 14, which will feature work by many of their member artists.

But wait! There’s more. For the second year I’ll have mohair and copper necklaces at the MassArt Made Holiday Sale at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston (where I got my MFA). They are lovely and fuzzy and come in a few different colors.

So, I’m not on Etsy for the holiday shopping spree, but I am at a couple holiday markets, and I’m inclined to count my successes. For the next few weeks my plan is to experiment a bit with fabrics, construction variations on the patterns I’ve developed so far, and surface design. Fun times ahead.

Dress #2: Red Tie-Dye Polka Dot Dress

redtunic

Here is dress number two: tie-dyed red with white polka dots made in organic cotton sateen from Organic Cotton Plus. Chronologically, it’s not actually dress number two; I made a couple of dresses out of fabric that I’m not so crazy about between the yellow/striped dress and this one, but this is most certainly second in my order of preference.

I sewed the dress in the natural (unbleached, undyed) fabric before I dyed it with a color called Fire Engine Red. I love this tie-dye technique, which I learned from a fabulous book called Tie-Dye: Dye It, Wear It, Share It. To make the dots, you take some sort of round object under the fabric (I used old plastic buttons), put a bit of plastic wrap over the fabric gathered by the object, and then wrap it with a rubber band. Dye as normal, then remove the rubber bands and plastic at the end and you get some lovely big irregular dots.

The result is fun and bold. I love the color, even thought it isn’t what I think of as a fire engine red: this color has less orange, and a little less intensity. More of a pinkish tomato. After the fact I spent some time looking for color samples of this particular dye, and it seems that my result was true to the dye, just not quite true to its name.

As you can see in the picture, it came out really being more of a tunic than a dress, because I ordered one yard of the fabric I wanted to try out, and that ended up not being quite long enough. But I love the tunic. Or rather, I love tunics, so I think I might include it as a variation of the Sunday Shift dress in my collection. And I definitely love the dye technique. Next time I think I’ll try it on a large piece of fabric rather than doing it on a finished dress.

I finished the inside of the neckline with red and white 1/4″ gingham bias, and used the gingham to make a loop for the vintage button closure at the back:

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The Very First Dress: Sunday Shift in Yellow and Stripes

I’ve been posting about weaving and working and making bags, but you may recall that the focus of this business I’m starting is dresses. Although I haven’t been writing about the dresses much, I have been working on them. And here for you today I am happy to present my very first dress, the Sunday Shift Dress in yellow with striped contrast band and pockets.

You may recognize the yellow flax/silk blend fabric from my first dyeing project in July. I actually made the main part of the dress a few weeks ago. However, the yard of fabric I purchased for testing shrank more than expected in the dyeing and washing process, and the dress ended up too short.

I kept it around while I worked on other things, pondering how to finish it. I finally decided to add a contrast band at the bottom, and for the fabric I used a striped men’s dress shirt I purchased at a thrift store that was in my “To Be Upcycled” stash.

I’m quite pleased with the outcome. Bertha the Dressform has been wearing the dress for a couple days, and it makes me happy every time I see it. I like the yellow enough that I think it would work in a solid color version of the dress, but the stripes are a fun option.

Stay tuned: more dresses coming soon!

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.

The Dream: Starting My Own Sustainable, Ethical Clothing Line

For a long time, I’ve dreamed of starting my own small business designing and selling clothing and accessories. In the age of Etsy, this is by no means a rare idea or an inconceivable ambition. But I can tell you, dreaming up something and actually trying to make it happen are two different things. It’s scary. Terrifying, even. I know nothing about running a small business and have no formal education in fashion. I wouldn’t even consider myself an expert seamstress; far from it. But I really, really want to do this.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

My idea is a business called Sunday Shift (the name came long before any solid idea of what I’d be making and selling), and the concept is to create handmade clothes that are simple, classic, and sustainable. Last year I took a workshop at NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology called Ethical Fashion Design that expanded my knowledge of how to create sustainable and ethical fashion design business. Our final project for the class was to create a mission statement for our own business, which you can see in this Prezi.

That was June of last year, and in the ensuing months I managed to fine time in addition to my full-time job and 2.5 hours of daily commuting time to make my first small collection of fiber-based jewelry, which I sold at the 2013 Holiday Sale at Massachusetts College of Art and Design (my MFA alma mater).

A few of my first items for Sunday Shift, sold at the MassArt Made 2013 Holiday Sale in Boston, MA. 

Then I got busy with many other things, and in the next several months I made little progress.

A few weeks ago I relocated to North Carolina from NYC, and found myself with a nice chunk of free time while I’m in between jobs. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to yank my proverbial bootstraps and get Sunday Shift going.

I’ve been working on it for the last week, and yesterday I finished my first prototype dress: a simple, A-line shift dress with front patch pockets. I’ve ordered fabric samples from two sources—Organic Cotton Plus and Hemp Traders—and hope to make select one or two to use for production soon.

I have much to do: tweak the pattern, grade the pattern into different sizes, decide on colors, test dyes and printing inks, develop patterns for a couple other items to complete my line, make fabric labels, get business cards, plus the whole process of incorporating and doing other things to make my business legit. I don’t have a specific time frame yet (add that to the to-do list), but I’d like to launch Sunday Shift on Etsy in September.

I intend to use this blog as a way to report on my experiences starting a craft business. This is in itself scary. What if I fail, and the whole blogosphere gets to watch? What if someone steals my ideas? What if people point out my mistakes? Well, that’s a risk I’ve decided to take. I hope that showing the less-than-perfect tales of an utterly clueless entrepreneur will be interesting and helpful to other people. And of course, if you have thoughts or ideas about what I write, please leave then in the comments.