Dress #2: Red Tie-Dye Polka Dot Dress

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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!

Hello, I am an Imperfect Thing.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Tomorrow’s task: improving.

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.