In a wild move, I signed up for a Patternmaking class at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) this past January. I was displaced because of Sandy (I promise to stop talking about that), and needed a distraction. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The course description sounded useful and I was excited to do something related to hand knitwear design, but different. I marched over to the registration office, signed up for the class and then sat down to look at the schedule. 15 weeks long, 4-hour classes at night. Oops. I had no idea I was signing up for an actual CLASS. Like a real class. Something I hadn't done in 16 years.
Well, I wanted a distraction and I got it. (I was stunned about the amount of time I had to dedicate to this class every week.) The class focused on patternmaking for wovens. And we went through the basics of the bodice, darts, etc. and then making slopers and then our final project was a production pattern of a blouse, of which we had a little freedom as to its design, and the actual blouse. I had to sew up an actual blouse for this class. I ignored this fact until the last few weeks of the class, and then freaked out.
If you're embarking on making a shirt, here are some things I learned through the process:
1. Buy David Coffin's Shirtmaking book. It is clear and gives you precise sewing tips for construction. Also explains the very big difference between pressing a shirt and construction ironing where the iron is used as a tool to actually shape the fabric into what you want. Who knew.
2. This Craftsy class saved my ass. I understand the parts that make up a shirt. I understand how to sew and how a sewing machine works, generally. But I was relatively clueless as to the actual construction of the shirt. So, I bought this class, taught by Pam Howard, and it was amazing. She's patient, clear and has a few tips and tricks which are pretty darn cool.
3. Do NOT use 100% linen on your first go. I did, and I will never look at linen the same way again. I bought it because it was on sale, and thought its similarity to cotton would make it similar to handle. Not so. Not even close. Cotton behaves. It pretty much stays put when you cut it or handle it. Linen is so slinky that it shifts even if you're not touching it. And the fraying turns little snips or little pieces like sleeve plackets into hairy messes. My professor was even curious why I would use such a fussy material. When I stared her down with my blood shot eyes, she looked upon me with pity.
4. Cutting out the pattern can be very fussy. I tried a few different methods and my favorite is the weights / rotary cutter method. I went and bought pattern weights from Steinlauf & Stoller in the garment district. It's just where one goes for notions, so I didn't think twice about it.
And then I had to carry home said weights. So my adivce to you is to order them online and have them delivered home. Of course, if you're like a normal person with a car, this won't be a problem. But, I did find a lot of great weights and tools on Nancy Zieman's site: Nancy's Notions.
As for the rotary cutter, my trusty 45mm Olfa that I use for quilting was a little big. There can be a lot of curves in a pattern, so I dug through my tools and found an 28mm which worked much better around curves. And, I also pulled out my 18mm rotary cutter which is super tiny just in case. (I never needed it.) Of course you'll need a cutting mat if you don't have one. And buy some spare blades - they become dull fairly quickly.
5. When time allows it, a muslin of whatever you're making is so handy. You get to see the blouse in a plain cotton fabric before ruining your production fabric. After an entire class, I went through yards and yards of muslin and it really started to add up. Finally, I found that I could buy an entire bolt at $2.99 a yard at Joann's. With their 40% off coupon, which they have all the time, I was able to buy the 25 yard bolt for about $45 which ends up being about $1.80 a yard. I was ecstatic. An even cheaper option is Swedish Tracing Paper, but there's no drape to it so it's hard to get a good sense of how the finished product will look. As an aside, I love using Swedish Tracing Paper when I block sweater pieces, but that's an entirely different post... coming soon.
6. Sharp sharp scissors are a must. Even if you cut out the entire pattern with a rotary cutter, you'll always need your scissors for something. I have a basic pair of Gingher Shears. I couldn't even remember when I bought them, so I knew they were old. When I tried to snip a little notch into the fabric and the fabric simply bent instead of cut, I knew something had to be done. I didn't want to buy another pair since mine were perfectly fine, so I went to get them sharpened. I took 'em to the Scissor Place, as I always call it, but their proper name is Henry Westpfal & Co. on 25th St, right down the block from the City Quilter. For $8, I felt like I had a brand new pair of scissors. I just love those huge scissors hanging over their front door!
Anyway, that's about all the advice I can pass along. I still can't sew up anything wearable. But I feel like I have more confidence now when it comes to patterns, sewing and minor manipulations for custom fits. I was in such a crazed rush to finish my shirt before class that I didn't get to snap proper pics of the finished shirt. But here is the one WIP pic I took:
Can you see that linen misbehaving around the neck opening?!
When I tell people I've taken this class they always ask me if it was to help with the knitwear designing. My initial reaction is no, because that's not why I took it. But there are definitely a few things that I've learned in relation to knitwear. This patternmaking class is strictly for wovens, and it was interesting to see all the nuances that have to happen in order for a woven to lay over the body's curves. Because knits are stretchy, much less shaping has to happen, except for the biggies, like the armholes and sleeve caps. But it did get me wondering why in so many hand knitting patterns I come across waist shaping with just an inch difference. Wouldn't the fabric take care of that as it lays over the curves? I'm not sure that a little bit of shaping makes a difference in knitwear now. This class has definitely got me thinking.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that hand knitwear is somewhere between wovens and knits, jersey-type knits that most fashion industry people refer to as knits. Because the gauge is so much larger than something like a store-bought t-shirt, a little shaping needs is required because it's not really desirable to have something tight across the chest, looser around the waist, and then cling to the hips. Just thinking of worsted weight wool yarn hanging on me like that gives me the willies.
As I ponder all these nuances in hand knitting, I always come to the same conclusion: it's personal. Everyone's likes and dislikes and preferences are so personal. I guess like most things.
I plan on taking more patternmaking classes in hopes of getting to the Knits class, but I'm also looking into Textile classes which delve into the actual fabric of knits and knitwear. I'll keep you posted.
Whenever I hear the word "improvisational" or "improv", I always think of stand-up comedy. Specifically, I think of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" I will never forget when I first truly appreciated this art form. During and immediately following 9/11, every single channel was reporting what had happened. I was sitting on my couch, staring dumbly and numbly at the television, probably drooling, probably crying and wondering what was going to happen. As I flipped from channel to channel, continuously being bombarded by the same images, Comedy Central suddenly started airing episode after episode of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" It was genius. I was frozen in front of the television like I was suddenly addicted to laughing. No one was allowed to change the channel for fear of letting anyting other than laughter and comedy into my home.
What I have come to realize over the past few years is that this improvisational technique is difficult and takes much training. And what looks like simple banter is the result of some serious training. So whenever I see art that compels me and appears to be completely random, unplanned and unworked, I know some hard work and a heavily trained eye was probably behind it. Denyse Schmidt's quilts are the perfect example of this thoughtful improvisation.
As you probably know, I love sewing and quilting. Knitting and I are like BFFs. We're besties. We just get along. I like her (yes, she's feminine) and she likes me. However, anything having to do with sewing is more like one of those hot-blooded relationships where doors slam, voices are raised and tears are shed. The result of sewing happens so quickly, that sometimes I don't have enough time to digest what I've done. Or more accurately, how I could have messed up something so simple, so badly.
So when it comes to something like quilting, I've developed the habit of planning out the patchwork. I hem and haw over the colors, which blocks go where, the order in which I'll sew them together, which way to press the seams... weeks can slip by before a single piece of fabric is cut. A quilt I had just made about a month ago is the perfect example of this. Yes, I love the result, but the patchwork looks so planned and was so planned. (My quilting, on the other hand, is usually free motion and I love being able to let my hands guide my brain.)
But, I do sit in front of my laptop for hours, scrolling through beautiful pictures of modern quilts on Pinterest and Flickr wondering how I can make such beautifully wonky, perfectly imperfect quilt tops.
So, I decided to take a deep breath and sign up for the Improvisational Patchwork class that Denyse Schmidt held at Brooklyn General. I had been tempted to take it when I saw it posted on Denyse's site years ago. But, it's held in her Bridgeport studio which wouldn't be easy to get to. And the dates never seemed to work out. I chalked it up to kismet, signed up and went last Sunday.
WHAT A BLAST! The workshop began with Denyse laying out the rules. Grab from a bag, don't look and start sewing together... basically. With total abandon, I started to piece together scraps Denyse had brought along attaching small pieces together, then medium, then large. What happened was something so magical, I really couldn't believe my eyes. The entire class started to put their blocks on the design wall and we were creating one of the most beautiful pieced tops I had ever seen.
Now, the second half of the workshop was where things got dicey. Again, we were to piece random bits together, but incorporate the fabric we had brought along. It was a way to have us start thinking about the improvisation. And a way for us to find a balance between letting go, to allow the process to take over, but also to consciously make design choices along the way. This was the trick. This was where hours of practice, making mistakes and experience would help hone. I found it difficult to walk this line. I was either just sewing without thinking, or really trying to figure out how my fabric could work into the block I was creating. I was starting to actively design, when passive designing would have been more relevant. I made the following four blocks in the second half of class. Nothing I would have consciously made, but I can see a bit of myself in each of them.
It was so refreshing to spend an afternoon, moving through and learning from a different creative process being led by someone like Denyse Schmidt at such a beautifully charming store as Brooklyn General. This is the my definition of true luxury.
Almost a year ago, I started a conversation with Quince & Co. about doing a sock design with their yarn. I started to swatch some stitch patterns I liked and immediately fell in love with their yarn, Finch. It's perfectly squishy - not too soft so you feel like the yarn is melting in your hands and not too stiff where you feel like you're working with twine. The sturdy softness of this yarn is perfect for socks. And the color! Whenever I work with Quince, they always ask me what color I want to work with. Usually, I'm fairly picky about how I picture a stitch pattern, or what colors I think are appropriate for clothing or accessories. But, I can always safely answer, "Whichever. I love them all."
So, out came Petit Fours. As you can probably tell, I was (am) having a love affair with chevrons. I really have no idea what that's about. But, I do love them. Graphic and simple.
© Quince & Co.
Designing socks allows me to let go a little. I can use stitch patterns I feel may be too fussy for a garment, or a color I feel may be too loud or obnoxious. They're socks! I love how you just get a little peek of them and usually only when you sit down. I'm always checking out people's socks in restaurants as I walk through, or on the subway, or while I'm standing on an escalator going up. (Businessmen really let go when it comes to their socks!) It's such a strange habit, but I get such a kick out of people's socks. I love the little surprises I get when I peek. I'm never disappointed.
While we didn't collaborate directly, I was really excited to be in a sock book with Cookie A. and Star Athena - both sock superstars! This is only my second sock design, so I was nervous to be 'round such talent. And both of their designs blew me away. I love Cookie's reverse stranded colorwork. It's genius. When you pull up a pair of socks, and if there's stranding on the inside, more likely than not, that pinky toe is going to get caught on a strand. What a perfect solution. And Star Athena's sweet details are so perfect for summer. I think they'd go perfectly with my new pair of Supergas.
When the design was finally released last Wednesday, I couldn't believe my eyes, but my socks were on the cover of the booklet. Thank you, Quince!
© Quince & Co.
Wow. I'm home now. And I've never loved my apartment more than I do at this moment. The idea of working from home has an entirely new meaning to me. By having no actual home these past several months, I realized that I didn't just work from home, but that I didn't work in an office. I had no place to escape to, and had no infrastructure I could rely on. I'm not an overly dramatic person, but I have to admit: it was a pain in the ass. Thankfully I had just started renting a studio space, but if any of you out there know what typical studio space in Brooklyn is like, you'll know it's not some place you can go to every day, all day. The heat is sporadic, and there is no internet service. So I ran out and got a space heater and a MiFi card, which is like a personal HotSpot (again, see Part II where you'll need more money than you think). My husband and I referred to every chapter in our displacement as a new adventure. And I like that. We explored different parts of the city and were able to break out of our routine. My routine, which as you know, was hard-won. Just as I had gotten down a schedule and some rituals, poof! It all disappeared.
So, a lesson I learned over these past few months is to be flexible. Yes, I think my case is a little extreme. It's not every day you're displaced from your home. And it's not every day you have to figure out things you normally take for granted like internet service, your comfortable office chair or having decent light. But, all of this brings me back to my corporate days and all the committees and meetings based on the idea of "disaster recovery". I had no disaster recovery plan. And I'm realizing it's not so much all the equipment or logistics, but it's your mental state. Simply thinking about and going through the exercise of "what would I do?" is helpful in preparing yourself. I was completely caught off guard, and realized that my work and productivity slowed down not because I didn't have my own space to work in, but that I had been mentally slapped around.
Now, I'm not sure if this next lesson is universal, but it was something that bothered me deeply, and I saw evidence of it when I was on my "adventure". Be prepared to be misunderstood. I'm not sure what throws people off. Part of it is the working from home aspect, and part of it is what I do. But, when I told people I quit my job and was going to persue designing knitwear full-time, it somehow meant that I wasn't working anymore. I kept getting asked, "How's not working?" Or, "What's it like being unemployed?" Better yet, "Oh, so you're just home knitting?" And when I would talk about the difficulties I was having in regards to work while I was displaced, I would get the occasional, "But you just need to knit, right?" In the beginning, I was offended. Then, I started correcting people thinking part of it was my fault, not explaining and educating people as to what I did. Now, I just smile and say, "Sure." Even though America was built on entrepreneurial expression, it is something foreign to most. All I can say is that we should redefine what "work" means.
Last, but definitely not least: Do what loves you. I know. We hear this all the time. Do what you love. But what exactly does that mean? Yea, sure - we're not going to go off on our own and do something we sort of like. (That wouldn't get you out of bed in the mornings.) And, I'm sure there's a laundry list of things that you love. I love to eat; I love to run. But when I think about true love, it's a two way street. (Eating is actually overeating and gorging for me, and running has given me stress fractures. I'm thinking these are one-way streets.) So, it’s also something that has to love you back. It has to suit you. One of my favorite books is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. And one of the themes in the book is that no one is really a natural. No one is really an overnight success. That if you were to examine all of the successful people out there, there would be a long line of experiences that has contributed to their success. And when I think about my own experiences, it’s a wonder why I hadn’t started designing hand knitwear sooner. My two absolute favorite subjects in school were Open Studio Art, and Calculus. I loved sketching, and loved numbers and curves. I wanted to be a fashion designer, and took classes at Parsons for a while. And having played piano, I developed a decent level of dexterity. Also, a major part of my last job was technical writing and editing. I can’t tell you how handy that’s been when I have to write out a pattern. All of these things, and all of those experiences created the right foundation for me to really take to knitwear design. It felt serendipitous in the beginning, but looking back, I'm realizing I had been preparing for it all my life.
Oh wait - one more thing. Take a break. How could I almost forget! I really never thought I'd have to force myself to take breaks, but here is the unfortunate result of doing what you love. Some days just sitting on the couch, watching tv and eating junk food is enough. At other times, a break can mean something completely different. They can be productive or fun and exhausting. I've been taking a Patternmaking class at FIT and having to go to class every week, and doing homework has forced me to take a break. I still feel like I'm being productive, and I like doing something related to my work, but I'm breaking from my regular patterns of thinking. And these breaks are so necessary to keep perspective and maintain creativity.
I hope my sharing these experiences and things I've learned have helped you, or at least entertained you slightly while you read my posts. May you all spend your days doing what you love, and breaking down the barriers of what we think of as work.