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.

Story N˚ 22: Autumn’s Summer’s Day

As I write, this warm day ends beautifully in shell-pink light.  But it’s one week into October in New York City.  Since summer seems to be outstaying its welcome, I took the liberty of wearing a pair of white pants and sandals out on a date last night.  The beauty of it is not that it’s warm enough to wear such clothes.  In fact, I’m craving the crisp air that makes me want to cozy up to a hot bowl of soup.  (I cooked three such soups today, but the cat and I just sweat through it uncomfortably.  I will squirrel them away for cooler days.) 

No, the joy of these pants is that they fit me!  I have held on to them for at least 6 years, have worn them a total of once in that time.  I confess to hoarding more than a few items in my closet for that future day when I can wear them.  Happily, those future days are becoming today for all the right reasons- exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep, and giving up (gulp) sugar.  There is no secret formula, no magic ingredient.  Me doing the work is the magic, the key, the secret. And a half marathon challenge around the corner is really helping out.

Back to these pants:  I used to work at Sea World in the Costume Shop.  We provided wardrobe for the various performers, except Shamu.  One of the venues was the pearl diver area where you could see sexy male and female swimmers dive gracefully into the water to collect oysters from the sandy bottom.  We outfitted all of them in black speedos, and had a cast of hostesses waterside to guide people from the viewing area to the gift shop, because, of course, beautiful women help sell merchandise, such as pearls in the setting of your choice.  The hostesses had a summer outfit and a different winter outfit, but both were in cream and white to fit the idea of dressing for a Grecian coastal landscape.  We prepped and maintained all the costumes for these lovely and talented women.  As I remember, at one point there was a huge change in costuming or in cast sizing (I’m not sure if the pearl diving is still a feature) and we still had lots of used and new inventory:  sweaters, pants, etc.  As too often happens, good quality clothing was going to get thrown out, or boxed away in storage to be thrown out eventually.  So in the changes, I scored a pair of almost-new creamy white trousers.  All I had to do was take in the waist and take up the hem, the usual alterations for my physique. 

I think I try these pants on each year and then pack them away again.  This year, even though the season is supposed to be over, and there’s that breakable rule: no white after Labor Day; I’m happy to rock these, even if my date didn’t feel the need to dress up (another story altogether…)

Story N˚ 21: The End of an Era

My first “puffy” coat-

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Not fashionable, but functional!
  • was purchased for $35 at Monk’s in Williamsburg around the time it was getting too cold to put off buying my first ever winter coat.
  • was in no way a fashion statement, but allowed me to experience Northern winters in a civilized, rational way.
  • was my shield on long, lonely and very necessary walks through the gloom of Winter 2013.
  • allowed me to enjoy my first snowshoe outing at Mohonk Mountain House (a sparkling day).
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On top of the world at Mohonk
  • cushioned me at the ice skating rink.
  • paired well with woolen sweaters and a down vest for extra cold days (not cause it looked great, but it did the warmth trick).
  • became a sort of blanket for my Christmas Day beach visits (yes, this Floridian goes to the beach every Christmas Day possible, and a coat like this makes it possible).
  • also made it possible to bike through a few winters (not sure what I was trying to prove).
  • five NYC winters later, will be fondly and appreciatively remembered.
  • the next winter coat, TBD
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The final resting place for my puffy coat

Story N˚20: Use It Up, Wear It Out

…Make it do or do without.  This saying, popular during the struggles of the Great Depression, is one I learned growing up in a large family.  Along with “waste not, want not,” I associate these expressions with my maternal grandparents.  They both lived through the Depression and knew how to live off the land and to prepare and preserve their own food.  From farming and gardening, to baking and canning, carpentry and sewing, they were self-sufficient, hard workers.  My grandfather always set up a compost wherever he went, my grandma taught us to sew and crochet when she visited, and her great grandmother made a certain quilt out of any scrap of fabric she could put together in pioneer times.

In my sustainable living and as an active environmentalist, I challenge myself to use and care for things in a conscientious way.  I scrape every last bit of peanut butter out of the jar before recycling it, for example.  The same with shampoos, etc.  I am aware of how much waste I generate all by myself- it’s a lot.

Applying this to my clothesmaking, I found a fabric a few years ago that hits all the marks for me:  a chambray of hemp blended with recycled polyester.  I ordered a few yards to test out and love the drape, texture and color ( a blue-grey denim wash).  The first thing I made was a pair of pants from a Marcy Tildon pattern that I altered to suit me.  The wide legs balloon out on either side and then taper smartly above the ankle.  I created a waistband and pockets for wearability.  These pants have gotten so many compliments, and I get as many from men as I do women; they may need to go to market…

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The perfect baggy pant

The fabric has held up well, except for the crotch, because of my bicycle seat and all the biking I do.  I had extra fabric to patch it, because I want them to last forever!  And then even more to make a skirt with…

For the skirt, I took the full width of the fabric (about 50″/127 cm), and pleated and gathered it until it fit my waist.  At the center back the two selvedge edges meet.  This time I added beesom pockets (cut right into the fabric and finished with jetting, incorrectly known as welt pockets).  The pocket linings were cut from a sari my sister brought from South Africa.  The turquoise silk peeks through the pocket slit.  Again a waistband, and this time a facing around the hem line.  The silhouette is a puffy column that inspired the name- the Suffragette skirt.  Maybe a matching-era sportscoat will appear…

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The Suffragette skirt

Even after a pant and skirt, there is still fabric left.  I put a panel of it in a skirt that I cut from a man’s dress shirt.  A bright polyester herringbone knit, circa 1970?  The story behind that find:  an old friend of mine was searching Craigslist for deals while he was out of work. He would often find giveaways, especially the belongings of deceased persons.  The daughter of an elderly man who had passed was giving away all of his old clothes, which I now have an ample stash of.  What can I say, there were many inspirational pieces in the pile…

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hemp + herringbone
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Details: crotch patch, beesom pocket, inset panel

For the chambray, I have almost used it up, I’m definitely wearing it out, am making it do and do, and haven’t had to buy anything in a while.  I love this.