I grew up surrounded by artists, art supplies, art in progress, art books, in galleries, and in museums. I grew up seeing furniture repaired and made fabulous, plain walls in little homes elevated with bold colors or faux finishes. I grew up with an appreciation for the vintage, for the carefully selected and well-built. And I grew up with the whir of a sewing machine in the background.
As I am currently working on a few sewing projects from my 100/1000 list, namely the quilt, shower curtain, and misc. mending, I’d like to write a bit about sewing projects and working with fabric in general.
Obviously it was my mother who taught me about sewing basics. But even if I didn’t have the patience or good sense to be a consistent student (and I didn’t- sorry, Mom), it still forever enriched my life to take the very notion (no pun intended) of sewing and mending as a given. Of course you fix your own things, and of course you create what you can’t afford or which does not even exist yet and which you invented.
Re-creating the Hausu cat face out of felted wool and cotton, 2011
It should come as no surprise that subsequent years of complete immersion and abandon, on the level of a religious devotee, into the philosophy, politics, and general ethos of punk subculture only served to nurture these DIY ideals. To this day, I so enjoy the practice and look of simple whip-stitch, and I’ll even add it to pieces for solely decorative purposes with colorful embroidery floss. But that all started with the necessity of patching old pants, then moved to the decoration of patches sporting band names or political slogans stitched onto my jacket in high-school. In the late 1990’s, I didn’t have the money, let alone a bank card, let alone a computer connection to the internet, which didn’t even have websites on which to purchase punk rock accoutrements anyway. That stuff was gleaned from attending actual shows with merch tables, trading stuff from friends, maybe finding something in the back pages of MRR, or making it one’s self. (I still remember my first supremely dorky punk band shirts I made in junior high with a combination of wistfulness and cringing.)
Finished Hausu cloak, built onto a vintage cape, 2011
Necessity and boldness became innovation, such as sewing “bum flaps” to hang from the back of my belt-loops (see: crust punk culture and fashion in the very early 2000’s) out of dumpstered Filsons fabric, or creating a large decorated flap to hang over my backpack to protect it from the elements while hopping trains, or making a sleeve to hang from my belt and house my multi-tool.. Many hours were spent outside of cafes or train yards punching holes in tough fabrics and leathers, perfecting consistent whip-stitches using dental floss as thread. It’s no coincidence that a subculture with a deeply ingrained critique of the current class system would develop practices that plainly reveal one’s own handiwork: visible white stitches on black and brown fabric, whip-stitches for all to see. There’s no need to hide the fact that you mend, patch, and create your own clothing. It’s a point of pride.
The underside of a boar skull painted onto the front of a bag with free-style machine-stitched embellishment and fabric pieces (sold). 2010
While of course I have moved on to other things, and learned to do a thing or two with a sewing machine, the influence of those years will always be with me, and it often shows in my ideals and my work.
My backpack, made out of material found at a thrift store, with straps from an old Alice pack and a piece of a shirt featuring part of this (baffling) vintage synthesizer advertisement. 2016
My wedding dress, made out of parts of an inexpensive ASOS dress, some fancy lace, and vintage-style silk that was very probably intended for upholstery. All but the sleeves and lower white part of the bodice were made by myself. 2016
Our wedding quilt: laying it out and piecing it together. 2016-17
The quilt I’m currently working on is enormous. It drapes to the floor on the sides and ends of a king-sized bed- as you can see in the picture with M. for scale. I chose fabric, cut and pieced it. My mother (truly an expert quilter) helped me pin the top, batting, and backing together, and advised on the methods for completing it. M. and I will do the wonderfully tedious quilting together, and it should be finished by the time we move, fingers crossed.
One of the lovely things about a keepsake quilt is that you can include pieces of sentimental garments that otherwise can no longer be used. A beautiful paisley shirt he wore the first few times we ever spent time together was coming apart at the seams, so now it’s in the quilt. There are vintage scraps I couldn’t afford to buy large amounts of, too, as well as thrift-store finds, fabric we gathered in bits while traveling, and things I found on sites like Hawthorne Threads, who stock adorable designs from Cotton & Steel. (PS: I really do love this stuff, and I love to share sources. I’m a nobody, and I don’t get sponsorship from anywhere! If I did, I’d always say so.)
Sewing projects are endless, but currently I’m trying to rein things in and complete stuff that’s in progress before moving on to anything new. At the moment, in addition to the quilt above, the list includes:
- The lengthening/mending/alteration of dresses.
Awesome trim from Britex Fabrics.
There is a certain company that offers very well-made, $60-100 fit-and-flare low-key vintage styles, then dumps the overstock which ends up at a nearby thrift store. Careful combing of the racks lands me a whole wardrobe of the dresses at 8-10% of the price. Of course, many of them are WAY too short for my 5’10” frame, or missing a button, etc. Let me tell you, a very inexpensive and easy way to lengthen or just personalize a dress is to add a strip to the hem. If a dress is too short, or you can’t afford yards of a pretty fabric to sew a new dress or just don’t know how, but you can manage to sew a strip along the hem (maybe with little darts/puckers to allow for the dress flaring out), there you go: a one-of-a-kind dress! (Along the same lines, a frugal way to enjoy an otherwise expensive cotton print or too-small remnant: make cloth napkins.)
- A new shower curtain.
- A cloak- I’ll be working off of this pattern by eyeballing it and drawing up a new one. (I found it floating around Pinterest and can’t seem to nail down a proper source, I apologize.)
- Turn my wedding dress into a small quilt, silk pillowcases, a clutch, and/or save some cloth in case we should need a Baptismal gown. Perhaps use my veil for curtains (despite the ominous Nick Cave lyric), or tablecloth on a dresser, or save in case of a bassinet in need of a little curtain. Anything but packing it away.
- Make a handbag. I’ve got The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Pieter Bruegel the Elder printed on some cotton, some left over Philip Jacobs for Kaffe Fassett fabric in “Shaggy Wine,” as well as some material I found and the thrift store then over-dyed and bleached.
- And finally, various seat cushions and couch pillows, all with dyed thrift store fabric, discount odds and ends, and so on, plus fixing up all the shirts missing a button, coats with torn linings, etc.
Those are the projects I hope to wrap up before it comes time to pack and move. I’d hate to drag unfinished projects all the way across the country. We shall see! And of course, I will post some progress pictures and final results.
Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. “Stitching Things Up.” Ortolana Studio & Press. Ortolana Studio & Press, 7 May. 2017.