Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why Can't I Be Different From Everyone Else?

Cruising through my reading list this evening, after almost a week of being unable to access it (thanks, Blogger), I came upon two posts that were written by two sewing bloggers.  One I've admired for a long time (Sarai from Coletterie, and one I've just recently discovered (Jody Pearl from Sew Outside The Lines).  Both of them touched on things I've been mulling over myself in the last year while on hiatus from writing my own blog.  Primarily, the questions/considerations center around 1) why do I sew? and 2) what is my focus, or what should it be?

Sarai recently did a series on her blog about streamlining your wardrobe by considering what your style is, or what you would LIKE it to be, and outlined steps you can take to get there.  From the comments she got during and after the series, it sounded like a lot of us are floundering when it comes to our personal style, so I'm no exception.  But I end up sewing so little for myself because I have had to take in so much sewing for others, just to help make ends meet.  So, I end up lurking around local thrift shops, scouring for duds that I can spruce up, remake, refashion, tailor, or use for parts & fabric.  And those pile up around me also, since I'm pretty tired by the end of my sewing day (4 hours most days, six if I can really push myself - check out the National Fibromyalgia Association website for details about why - it's too much to explain here).  It's not that I ever run out of ideas - anyone who's haunted my Pinterest board about refashioning knows that, LOL - I just run out of steam.  What little steam I have, I have to devote to the sewing that brings in income.  Sigh.

I love helping out by taking in sewing, but I've given some really serious thought to backing off from that, because I miss - I REALLY miss - sewing for the creative outlet that it brings, whether that's sewing from scratch, or remaking something to make it my own (refashioning).  I believe in reusing and repurposing things, and have done that for years.  What I didn't realize is that those concepts are part of a broader philosophical notion known as wabi sabi.  My favorite quotes from Wikipedia about it:  "If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi."  (Juniper, Andrew, 2003.  Wabi Sabi:  The Japanese Art of Impermanence.)  And, "Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realitites:  nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."  (Powell, Richard, 2004.  Wabi Sabi Simple.)  

Those last three notions really sang to me.  Nothing lasts.  Nothing is finished.  And nothing is perfect.  Really sums up both why I love to sew for myself or create something of my own to offer the rest of the world, and why I love refashioning.  And why I'd love to pursue both of those as an expression of myself (and hopefully, result in unique goods and/or clothing that others would be keen to purchase).

Sarai had a checklist on her post, offered as thinking prompts, that I have copied and put above my desk to help me pursue exactly WHAT I want to be saying, both to myself and to the world:
  • Who am I?
  • What am I like?
  • How do I want others to see me?
  • How can I express myself in a way that feels true and creative?
  • Why can't I be different from everyone else?
  • Why do I have to take myself so seriously?
I will be devoting some serious thinking time to pursue what my goals are for developing my personal style and the style I would like to present to others.  In the meantime, I stole some time out of my work schedule to remake a top from the Assistance League (the AL).

Here's to being different from everyone else!  :)

I started with an XL knit top  (on my larger dress form) that I snagged when the AL was having their 50% off sale.  Beautiful fabric, and I loved the colors. I try to look for things that have enough fabric or working room in them to remake.  If I can't fit a pattern into the top as it is, often I will cut it up to use in a color blocked shirt. The other thing to keep in mind when you go thrift-store-hopping:  check the condition of the garment very carefully.  Make sure there is no pilling, stretched out areas, discoloration, fading, stains, or holes.  Unless you either want to incorporate that into your look, or you know you can cut around it or over dye it.
 Check out the Reigning Queen of Over Dyeing.
I've folded the top in half at the center front, matching side seams, and now
I've pinned the pattern I'm using to the top, placing the pattern on the center fold and matching the armhole area as much as possible.  When you decide to use a pattern for
your refashion, you need to audition it a bit on the garment, deciding how best to use the existing garment's seams, hems, neckline finish, etc, keeping your finished garment idea in mind.
Sometimes the garment itself dictates what you can do with it.
It's okay.  There are no refashioning police.

Here's a closeup of the pattern up around the neck area.  My shoulders were still
joined, so I have pinned it beyond the seam approximately the distance of the seam width (5/8"), placing it from the center front fold, and not worrying about the neckline - I'm going to leave that as is.

Here is a very blurry closeup of the shoulder/neckline area. I've already cut around the new armhole, being careful not to cut into the sleeve or the sleeve seam allowance. It just barely fit into that area, amazingly. 

Cutting up the sides - I was able to trim out about 4 to 4.5" of excess fabric on each side.  I like this pattern because it is shaped on the sides, where some are just straight up and down from the bust line to the hem.  You can see that the armscye just fits around the existing sleeve curve, right at the seamline.  
And...nothing is perfect.  (Remember my new mantra?)  Here's where you can make an executive decision.  Mine was to use the existing hem, so I didn't worry too much about where to place the lower edge of the pattern.  I was aiming to keep the upper neck/shoulder area as intact as possible instead. 

Now that the front was cut, I folded the back in half, matching the shoulders and the side seams.  Again, I pinned the shoulder of the pattern 5/8" beyond the top's shoulder seam, since I wouldn't be needing the seam allowance, and placed the center back line on the fold of the garment.

Ah.  Here is a better closeup photo - you can see the shoulder edge of the pattern pinned beyond the existing seam.  I continued cutting the sides and the sleeves, leaving me with a front/back which was already finished at the neckline and the lower hems.  All I have to do now I cut the sleeves, set them back in, and finish up.

See?  It's like magic.  Now I won't have to do so much work to have an all new shirt.
Here was what was left after cutting the side seams from the front & back, and the sleeve cap area.  

This dangling part was just about all that went unused - so now I don't have anywhere near the waste I would have, had I purchased fabric to cut this pattern from.   Not bad. 
I had to determine what I needed to use from my pattern, and how it fit into the existing sleeve.  I cut the armhole of the bodice out using the pattern, so I should cut the sleeve cap from the same pattern so they fit together.  If I tried to use the existing sleeve cap as is, you can see there would have been a real fitting issue.

Cutting the sleeve cap to match the cut
armscye of the bodice.
Still had plenty of room left at the
lower edge of the sleeve, and the
pattern length was a bit short,
as it's meant to be a 3/4 sleeve.
 So I used the existing hem and that
left it a wrist-length sleeve.
I know, I know.  I'm a petite person
living in an average-sized pattern world.

I didn't take a photo of attaching the sleeve cap to the bodice, but after I serged them, there was a jog between the sleeve cap and the armscye in the upper bodice area on each sleeve.  That was due to having to pivot the pattern just slightly to get it to fit into the shoulder & neckline area.  I opted to serge along the sleeve (in the upper part of the picture) and then taper from that jog toward the side seam allowance (in the lower part of the photo), cutting off a small triangle.  I may have lost a bit of width in the upper bodice, but since the fabric is knit it wasn't as critical.

BEFORE                                                   AFTER
And here you have it - a shirt that looks brand new, with lovely commercially finished hems and neckline, but tapered and fit to my measurements.  Alternately, I could have just taken the top in all the way from the sleeve hem down the side to the lower bodice hem, but when you do that the shoulder seam ends up falling off the shoulder into the upper bicep area.  Not too flattering - and in a light colored shirt like this, really obvious.

Not too sure about this bringing on a serene melancholy, but it definitely fit the spiritual longing part.  It may not last, it was definitely not finished in it's original state, and it certainly isn't perfect.  But because I don't want to take myself so seriously anymore (I have to create a garment from scratch!  I have to do everything, from start to finish!  And it has to be perfectly sewn!), it fulfilled a need to have a result that feels true and creative, and better reflects the philosophy of wabi sabi.   


  1. Eileen,
    You are so talented. I am always amazed at the things you create.

  2. Finding the magic personal style is something that bugs a lot of us ~ love the top redo, you have a great eye for seeing the potential in garments ... J