Story N˚ 29: It doesn’t have to be pretty

I try to seek out clothing that has an interesting history and is as lovely as possible to write about. Until today. As I thought about what clothing I have a history with, I looked at a pair of cut-off sweat pants that I have had for years.  I must have bought them at Target, and they may have been yoga pants at some point- very comfy, lightly fleecy, black stretch knit. But a few years ago I was ready to run my first half-marathon: The Brooklyn Half. Needing something to wear with the black and red race shirt provided, and having a limited budget, I went back to Target. There was an outrageous amount of things to choose from, but nothing felt good- I didn’t want tight, synthetic knits, and nothing looked good on me. Dressing rooms are terrible, terrible places.

In frustration, it occurred to me that I could use the above described yoga pants if I cut them into shorts. It worked- I had comfortable shorts that I didn’t have to worry about during the race. I kept using them to work out and train in, and when I was ready to do my second half marathon two years later: The Rock and Roll Half in Brooklyn, it was easy to just grab these shorts again and go.

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Though not visible, black knit shorts are on!

Today, I ran the Bronx 10-mile race.  I had my comfy, black shorts on. They are not cute, sexy or stylish, but they get the job done and I love that.  This photo shows them post-race, fortunately the buckets of sweat are not visible. I’m not sure how much more running these shorts can take, but their durability so far is amazing. I appreciate well made clothes, and I’m proud of myself for having the sense to make something last rather than buying more clothes that I ultimately wouldn’t have wanted or used. I’m also proud of my races.  Let’s see if these shorts will see me through a few more…

 

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Story N˚ 28: Saying Goodbye

IMG_1375  This is less a story and more a musing on the end of Summer. I feel wistful as I plan my last beach trip and watch the sun set a little earlier each day. Late summer fruits and cool air have arrived. Apples and stews are around the corner. I realize how much I love the green trees. I will miss their lush shade and the way they brighten up a street, even though autumn is a lovely season up here.

Soon I will pack away the bright cottons and floral prints of my summer wardrobe. It never feels like I’ve worn them enough before it’s over. I’m still hoping to get a last summer stitch done. I took this self portrait to capture my summer coloring. The backdrop fabric is a silk/cotton blend skirt I found in a thrift store in Virginia. It doesn’t fit, but I liked the floral print on herringbone twill. I will cut it into a top this Labor Day weekend and hopefully wear it a few times before I pack it away with the rest of my light, airy, too-brief-summer clothes.

 

Story N˚ 27: Full Summer|Osaka

I am experiencing one of the best summers of my NYC life.  One month into it, I was hiking in the Adirondacks reflecting on the many summery things I had already done: beach, cook-outs, stone fruit!, watching fireflies in the park.  And there are still two more months to bask in it.

Another thing that is making my summer stellar is that I’ve completed a few things on the fix-it pile and added them back into my wardrobe. One item is a top I bought in Osaka in 2010.  I spent 10 days traveling through that deep green country and couldn’t believe my eyes with all of the thoughtfully designed, interestingly beautiful styles people were wearing. I’ll have to dig out my sketches. I loved that women, young and old, wore tailored pieces like pinafore dresses over blouses. They tend to protect their skin from sun at all cost with long sleeves, hats and parasoles. I also loved to see the rich fabrics of kimonos here and there. I bought a piece of a vintage kimono, marine blue with a white brush stroke pattern, that I still need to turn into something…

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sneaking a photo
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the window display that lured me inside

I was lured into a shop in Osaka by white cotton and lace blouses in the window, but saw a floral print inside and stared at it lovingly until my traveler companions urged me to try it on. Then it was mine. It has a translucent linen weave under the floral print.  The shoulders were tightly ruffled when I bought it, but I’ve grown out of that look and have since smoothed it out.  The white daisies on blue, orange and yellow flowers make a perfect color scheme for full summer.

 

I wore this often in Florida, but put it away when I moved here.  It felt like the old me in my old life.  I thought to cut it into something else, but it only needed an adjustment to be mine again in my new life. After a sufficient break, it gets to be a jewel in my summer wardrobe crown.

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Story N˚ 26: Remembering Rana Plaza

GettyImages_470780584.0Photo: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

April 24th of this year marked the 5th anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse where more than 1,100 people died and many were injured. Rana Plaza is one of the thousands of garment manufacturing high rises in Dhaka, Bangladesh. “It now has the horrific distinction of being the site of the deadliest garment factory disaster ever.” https://www.racked.com/2018/4/13/17230770/rana-plaza-collapse-anniversary-garment-workers-safety

Over the last five years, the above article link explains, safety measures have been implemented and working conditions have improved for the stitchers, but the pay is so low it doesn’t reach the minimum monthly wages of Bangladesh. This low pay traps workers, mostly women, in a poverty cycle. These are the people who pay the price of our cheap clothing. All of the big fast fashion names: H&M, Gap, Zara, etc. have garments manufactured here. And while many of them signed on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (http://bangladeshaccord.org/), some of these companies are reluctant to pay a living wage (about triple what the workers currently receive).

As you make your shopping choices, even on a budget, check the label and remember Rana Plaza, remember the workers who are currently trapped in poverty. We vote with our dollars. If we are willing to pay a little more for our clothing (to worthy brands), we can put the squeeze on the corporations that are exploiting people for profit.  Fashion Revolution asks “Who made my clothes?”  Are your brands worthy of your dollars?  Are they doing right by the people who make our clothes?

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Story N˚ 25: Vintage for Easter

When I started thinking of my array of floral dresses that I choose from for Easter Sunday, I remembered a dress I haven’t worn in years.  In fact, I couldn’t remember if I still had it, and if I had altered it or not.  Sometimes, I start chopping up a dress to make into a skirt or top, and then get distracted and find it mangled years later.  And I usually can’t remember what I was going to make it into.  I know I have thought of how to alter this particular dress many times.  When I went to look for it, I couldn’t remember if it had gotten chopped or not.  I was a little worried.

This dress is the first truly vintage piece I ever bought.  I was in high school, late 1980’s. One summer when we were visiting family in Salt Lake City, my sister and I who were already thrift shoppers, found ourselves in a vintage shop.  I’m sure I didn’t understand the difference back then between thrift and vintage except for price; all I knew was we were surrounded by great clothing.  This green and white floral print must be rayon, and I think the tag read circa 1930’s, maybe early ’40’s.  It looks handmade, although the buttonholes and buttons look commercial.  I honestly don’t know how it has lasted this long in my rambunctious wardrobe.  It is worn out and yellowed in some places, but the rayon is strong and still drapes beautifully.

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Note the grosgrain ribbon running through the crenellated tabs and on the buttons.
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Do you look inside of clothing to examine the stitching?  I do.

I wore it constantly in Florida where dresses are great for the heat.  I remember my high school art history teacher, Dr. Earles, complemented me on it.  My first year of college, I wore it with no socks and men’s dress shoes. I’m talking early-grunge, so this was ultra feminine. I remember one late summer evening I went to visit a guy in his dorm.  I had a new haircut, my vintage dress and no shoes on. I knew he liked green, and was hoping he liked the dress, that is, liked me in the dress. The kiss didn’t happen till later that semester, but I’d like to think the dress had something to do with it.

I would also wear it to the university’s performing arts center, where I volunteered as an usher with my best friend so we could see the play or opera or symphony for free.  This was an easy dress for such occasions.

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I realize I haven’t worn this dress for decades. The dress does have a homely, hausfrau look to it from here. I don’t remember it that way. Maybe that’s why I didn’t wear it for so long. I found it at the bottom of a pile of clothes (one I keep for sentimental reasons); it wasn’t cut up at all!  I’m glad my past self had the sense not to change it.  But I want to freshen it some way, maybe wear it again this summer.  For now, it will be my Easter dress, maybe with a shorter skirt and cap sleeves.

Happy Easter

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Story N˚ 24: Hanging Up my Shears

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This story is about the end of my clothes making/sewing career.  It began in 2001 at Sea World Orlando, where I made costumes for over a decade.  My favorite creation was the pink-tailed Mermaid costume (see below).  When I moved to NYC in 2012, I knew I wanted to return to my first love: Fashion.  My plan was to work in ethical/sustainable fashion making patterns and samples, while creating my own line.

Fortunately, I was able to do the first half of that: developing a designer’s collection in Brooklyn, and then working at the prestigious Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator.  There were many designs and textiles to get excited about and I learned a lot through these experiences.  I also took on a lot of freelance work, because I couldn’t seem to sustain myself in sustainable fashion jobs.  I had many wonderful clients, including a singer/songwriter from Texas who would bring me piles of vintage clothing to tailor down to her petite body.  And there is an elegant designer from Detroit (a dear friend) who contracted me to create her pieces for a Detroit art event.  Not only did the collection turn out beautifully, I was treated to the event in Detroit and had a blast!  This was easily my most successful project. Here’s a pic of one piece, I’ll post more later.

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Christina Liedtke, Designer

While I have loved working with creative people and enjoyed honing my stitching skills, I realized I would be buried alive under sewing work in order to pay the bills.  This would leave me no time or energy to work on my own designs and ideas, and I found that to be true over and over.  This week I finished my last project for a client:  some cushions covered in a lovely, traditional Chinese wax-resist indigo-dyed cotton that kept my fingers blue.  (I dream of piecing all the fragments of the various creations I’ve made for clients into a strange quilt.  Yes, I’ve been hoarding fabric scraps.  We’ll revisit this another day.)

For now, I’m happy to close this door, so I can open another.  One that will provide plenty of fodder for my clothestories…

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Melanie Sosa, Designer (photo credit: Baby’s parents?)  I would love to make another mermaid costume one day.

Story N˚ 23: The Disappearing Act

The #metoo movement has inspired me to think of my own history of being sexually abused and harassed. Fortunately, I haven’t encountered it blatantly as an adult; I think because I mainly work with women and gay men. I understand that abuses occur with women and gay men too, but I have been fortunate in my surroundings. Or I have learned to fly under the radar of straight men…

What I want to connect to sexual harassment, assault, rape, etc. is what I see as a result of said abuses: the disappearing act that occurs in some girls and women. There is a disconnect from our bodies. Maybe we put on weight, and then start wearing large, shapeless clothing, usually black, to hide.  Clearly, not all girls wearing black, slouchy clothes have been abused, but some of us who have will do anything to make ourselves invisible.

My sex abuse/harassment history started when I was very young. The most memorable event was a playground scene, when I was 10 years old, that still makes me bristle. My friends and I were playing in the middle of the yard surrounded by the swings and jungle gym. Suddenly, a boy in my class, Bruce, started running at me from across the field. He hit into me full force and grabbed me between the legs. I pushed him away and he dashed off to do it again and again, hitting me full force with his body and clamping his hand on my crotch. I couldn’t believe what was happening. My classmates had all stopped to look on, and I could hear them making comments to each other. I was hysterical with shame and panic. Finally, our teacher called us over. I don’t know that she saw what happened, because she made us sit side by side on the picnic bench in front of her and yelled at both of us for bad behavior. I remember the feeling of having no one on my side to protect me or stand up for me.  I think this is when I started to disappear rather than suffer humiliation. As more harassment occurred in my school years, I tried more and more to recede into the background. By high school, I was wearing black, baggy clothes and doing my best to play invisible.

I love fashion and dream up outfits in my head all the time, but what I actually put on is considerably pared down by comparison. Too much shut-down training, too much beauty ideal stress. I mean, why look sexy if I will just be harassed?  It’s complicated.

I found this entry in my journal from early December:

“Sister Jones has on a cream-colored, ankle-length fur coat. I think she’s Gladys Knight for a moment because someone runs to get a photo with her. I watch her, can’t break my awe. People who are good at disappearing don’t trifle with such elegance, we don’t even play at it.”

A photo will appear in this post eventually. Maybe of my teenage self, maybe a foray into elegance… Until then, #metoo.