Ham.

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).

Back to Work. No, the Other Work.

Photo Jul 28, 11 41 24 AM

For the last two months, I’ve had the luxury of being a budding creative entrepreneur. I woke around 7am, had breakfast and coffee, took a walk with my mom, and then got to work in my home sewing studio. I’ve made great progress developing designs, drafting patterns, finding and testing materials, and meeting kindred spirits. It has made me incredibly happy.

Then, a couple weeks ago, an interesting thing happened: I went back to work. You know, a J-O-B. Back to full-time, salaried, benefits-imparting, work. It was my plan all along to get such a job; my full-time creative entrepreneurship was really a lucky opportunity presented when I relocated to North Carolina from NYC without a job. I’ve been searching for a standard paying gig all along, because a) the whole money not growing on trees thing and Sunday Shift being waaaay off from providing me with a living wage and b) I actually enjoy the intellectual challenge and social interaction that comes with an office job.

And I’m really quite excited about this job, which, it so happens, has essentially nothing to do with sewing, fashion, sustainability, or entrepreneurship. What I’m less excited about is the double life of an office job professional and an evenings-and-weekends creative. So far, that’s how my adult life has worked. I’ve set as my heroes individuals like William Carlos Williams, who was both an incredible poet and a full-time physician for forty years.

Thus far, the main drawback has been the lack of decent daylight during my at-home hours to take photos for this blog. I’m off on my morning commute just as the sun’s morning rays reach through the windows. By the time I’m home, I’m too hungry and tired to remember to get out my camera and catch what I can before the sun sets.

There is no light—
Only a honey-thick stain
That drips from leaf to leaf
And limb to limb
Spoiling the colours
Of the whole world.

(From “A Love Song,” by Williams Carlos Williams)

But I’m working on it.

 

Hello, I am an Imperfect Thing.

IMG_2359

Today I made an imperfect thing.

This seems to be a common occurrence. I rather wish it weren’t. I rather wish the hours I spent and the tools I ran up and down the stairs 30 times to fetch and the giant mess I made had produced an perfectly stitched little bag.

The little bag is a design I created a couple years ago. My sister, who is a fashionista and a physician, asked me to make her a stylish bag in which she could carry her iPhone while she does rounds at the hospital and is wearing clothes without pockets. I made the original out of pieces of an old suede skirt of hers. I made a little suede tassel, added a vintage brass button on the flap closure, and braided a strap out of leather cording I bought at Mood. She liked it so much she asked me to make her another one the next year out of an old leather purse. Last week I stopped by to visit her at her office and was delighted to see her wearing it.

It’s a handy little bag: just big enough for a phone, which sometimes is all you want to carry around. I want to make the bag part of the Sunday Shift mini-line, so this week I set about working on a reproducible version.

First task: finding sustainable materials. A while ago I decided to keep my options open and make one-of-a-kind or limited-edition bags out of mostly upcycled materials, like thrift store leather skirts. But then I also wanted a vegan alternative. If you want to be both vegan and sustainable, leather alternatives are tricky. Most faux leathers are basically plastic textiles, which means they biodegrade about as well as a plastic bottle. And even high-quality vegan leathers wear out much faster than high-quality animal leather (after using is sparsely for 8 years, my beloved vegan Matt & Nat purse started insidiously shedding black faux leather flakes everywhere.)

I hit the upcycled/vegan jackpot a couple weeks ago at The Scrap Exchange in Durham, NC: a pile of faux leather upholstery samples. A nice stack in a variety of colors set me back barely more than $5.  It’s nice quality, too: a pretty realistic leather look, supple, sturdy.

IMG_2358

With the sourcing done, the next step is constructing the thing. This seems basic. But this is tricky for a person used to sewing cotton and silk and the like, because leather and faux leather are different. For one, once a needle pierces leather, the hole is there forever. There’s no ripping out seams and doing it again, unless you have some way of hiding the old stitching line. You can’t pin it. It’s much thicker than apparel fabrics, which means dealing with multiple layers and seam allowances is tricky.

Plus, faux leather has an ugly polyester backing on one side. And somehow this ugliness must be hidden, whereas with real leather you just be all rustic-exposed-raw-edgy.

IMG_2361

On top of all that, I’m not particularly experienced with sewing leather. The fact that the bag I’m making is very small, about 4″ x 6″, makes everything harder. All those thick layers are squished together in the same place. If I were smarter, I’d have started out with a tote bag.

But intrepid (or stupid) me, I went for it anyway. I chose a piece of material in a slightly metallic gold, because it’s fun and didn’t really match with any of the other colors. I picked a scrap piece of some Amy Butler cotton for the lining. The lining poses yet another challenge. How does it attach to the leather outside AND conceal all of the ugly polyester backing?

Without going through my entire process, let us say that the result of all of these challenges and my lack of skill is a somewhat unsatisfactory product. Wonky is a good word for it. Part of the problem is that when I’m working on a design for the first time I get impatient, and I neglect important little steps like marking the center of the bag before attaching the strap. So I’ve got a bag with unfinished seams, a crooked strap, and a snap that is too loose.

It does, however, have a nifty interior pocket just the right size for a driver’s license, credit card, or subway pass. Innovation!

IMG_2360

Tomorrow’s task: improving.

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.