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.

 

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Story N˚19: Or, Up on my SOAP BOX

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Some of my motives for writing about clothing experiences are to elevate the status of clothing in your wardrobe, to encourage you to carefully buy new clothes and take care of those you already have, and to consider the environmental and humanitarian impacts of your shopping choices. 

In light of current political activity and mood in the U.S., it seems trite to share a story about clothing when there are weightier issues on the table:  mass incarceration, human trafficking, poverty, corruption, human rights violations, environmental devastations and, latest, refugees have just been barred from entering our freedom-loving nation.  This is heavy stuff, but I can no longer look away.  

I want to stress anew the power that we have as consumers and citizens; this power is fueled by knowledge and information.  In a democracy, even a version of one, we all have the responsibility to know our rights and stay informed (through a wide range of credible channels), and then to speak up when ours and other’s rights are in violation.  One of our powers is to vote with our dollars- what we give money to, we give power to.  Let it be a worthy, ethical entity. 

Given the above dump truck’s worth of issues that violate human rights, there is much to be done.   Shopping responsibly is one important and simple thing we can do, here’s how:

  • Shop Thrift, Vintage, Second hand.  There is so much great stuff out there already, let it inform your personal style. 
  • Shop only when you need something, rather than as a hobby, habit or compulsion.
  • Shop brands and stores that you trust.  It only takes a minute to google a brand and see how they score on an ethics/environmental test.  Give your money to a brand that cares!  the good trade  ecocult  project just
  • Shop in your closet or share/swap clothes with siblings and friends.
  • Shop for quality.  Buy items that are well made and will last you more than a few wearings.
  • Shop for your individual style instead of only shopping trends.  Be your beautiful self and have fun figuring out what your style is, or test the limits of your established style.
  • Take care of the clothes you have, be grateful for them.  Hang dry your clothes, don’t over wash, and repair them or find a reliable tailor to help you.

In solidarity,

E

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By Mark Fischer – http://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/7454854178/sizes/l/, CC BY-SA 2.0

Story N˚18: A Dress in 3 Acts

Act 1:  2008. Woman in her mid thirties visits NYC with her husband. She enters a bohemian boutique in Manhattan and finds a subtle, well-draped dress in a watery Japanese print.  It’s on the sale rack, so it’s worth a try in the fitting room.  A little snug through the shoulders, but it’s so different, so beautifully grey and blue, and affordably priced.  She takes it back to Florida where it gets compliments and stains in the armpits because of the heat, and the fact that it’s snug through the shoulders.

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Act 2:  2010, Florida. Woman wears the beautiful dress to her estranged husband’s BFA  show at the university they both attend.  She wants to look good.  Her hair hangs long down her back. She puts on orange peep-toe platforms to create some pop with the grey tones of the dress.  She is feeling confident and happy.  Her husband really wants her to be there, so he said.  All of their friends, her in-laws and classmates are there to support him in his exhibition, including a professor they both took classes with.  The professor looks very dressed up in make up, an open-back dress and heels. Her hair is also hanging long down her back.  The Woman notices the professor looks nervous. 

Act 3:  2012, New York City, a rented room.  It is only a few months since her divorce. The Woman found out that the professor and her husband were sleeping together.  The Woman found out that she and her husband want different things in life.  She is feeling lonely and sorry for herself, and decides to go out.  She puts on that grey dress and a little make up.  She runs her hand over her head that is now a cropped lawn of hair.  She shaved her head in mourning after the divorce, and as a way to start anew.  The Woman goes to an open gallery night in the Lower East Side.  She looks at art and boutique goods; she sees beautiful things.  She sees people struggling on the streets.  She eats a slice of pizza and watches people go by.  She knows she has it good; she goes home contented and ready for her new life alone…

-Emily

Story N˚17: Sweater Weather

…Which officially began a few months ago in these climes, has been eluding us.  Even today in Manhattan, I saw a teenager in shorts and flip flops as I marched by in tall boots, sweater, scarf and raincoat.  Despite being dressed for the rainy grey day, I wouldn’t call it cold or even chilly.  My sweaters are ready to go, but on many days they feel too heavy and uncomfortably warm.  Here’s hoping temperatures will drop, so I can bundle up properly.

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My sweater stack is a tidy group of mostly shopped pieces. As a Floridian, I wasn’t in the habit of acquiring sweaters.  Since moving to New York, I’m happy to boast a few Indigenous cotton sweaters ethically made in Peru and a charcoal grey alpaca sweater by Zady that I’m getting a lot of mileage out of.  But the sweater that has the most history with me is a hand-knitted pumpkin spice sweater that keeps me cozy warm.  It came into my life in 2005 on a return trip to Argentina.  As I’ve mentioned before, Argentina is a great place for yarns and knitting.  My friend, Silvia, was working away on this sweater.  She said it was for herself but when finished, she realized that it was way too big for her small figure and gave it to me as a gift.  I thought it was too big for me as well, but didn’t want to refuse it.  I made room in my suitcase somehow- this thing is really bulky!  And it lived in clothes storage for many years before I moved North.  I think the oversized slouchiness really works now, although the color isn’t my favorite and I prefer natural fibers.  On the coldest days, this sweater has found itself stuffed inside my down fill coat. A tight fit, but no complaint of chill.  And I can always use a scarf to offset the color.  This sweater has become a lounge staple.  Best of all, I love that it is handmade by a friend…

 

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Story N˚ 16: This is Scary!

The fur industry is scary.  I’m not talking about fur used by indigenous peoples for warmth; I’m talking about fur for fashion.  Apparently, there is no way to do this humanely.  I was looking at a few anti-fur/animal rights sites for just a moment and I am sick to my stomach.  A few years ago, I got through the documentary, Earthlings (trailer link), but not without crying my eyes out.  I haven’t been the same since.  Fashion is just one of the ways we abuse animals, but the fur industry is unconscionable.  Here is an article that gives information on “ethical fur“, but I don’t know how animals bred in cages just for their pelts can be truly ethical.  I will have to do more research on the topic…

In the meantime, I am in favor of using what is already in existence.  There is a lot of fur already in circulation.  There are many opinions on the subject of fur, but I value the tradition of passing on clothing.   I received a Persian lamb swing coat that my great Aunt Norma had made for her in the 1950’s.  It’s a lovely piece in my vintage collection and so well crafted.

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I added some Halloween flair, Miss Havisham style.

My story of this coat:  I was working at that suburban fabric store that wiped out all other fashion fabric stores in my area in the 90’s, and continues to dominates home sewing commerce.  I was in charge of restocking fabrics and so I often got to help customers with their ideas and projects as I worked the floor.  Around December, a woman wanted to make a dressy coat for a company party.  We looked at patterns, fabrics and talked styles.  As she described the coat she wanted, my swing coat came to mind.  I was shy about offering it, because she would have thought me crazy to lend my coat to a stranger.  But the idea kept surfacing, so I finally said that she was describing a coat I have in my closet, and she was welcome to wear it to the party.  She jumped at the offer!  She wasn’t a seamstress and couldn’t afford to buy something fancy.  I brought her the coat- she loved it, wore it to the party and then returned it with a small gift.  It was one of the best clothing exchanges I have experienced.

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Fine stitch work, beautiful label…
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My great aunt’s initials, I love the personal touch

Story N˚15: Yellow September

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A few years ago, I worked at a boutique that carries ethical fashion. The owner said she had to often avoid buying yellow colors when selecting styles. Even if the clothes looked really good, she had trouble selling them. Perhaps many women don’t think they look good in yellow.

I don’t know if I look good in yellow, but I enjoy wearing it. I also notice that yellow really catches my eye when I see someone else wearing it. It’s brave to wear such a bold, attractive color. The yellow may be ochre or soft; I still think it’s bold and beautiful to wear.

This time of year is a yellow color for me- this transition from summer to autumn. The light has softened from bright white to yellow. The tree-top greens become yellowed, then golden. Some of the first leaves to change are bright yellow. The tulip tree and silver linden. (I notice that Spring happens the same way: one of the first colors to pop is yellow- forsythia, daffodils, etc.)

I like to pull out a certain outfit around this time of year. A pale ochre dress I bought at the above mentioned shop. It was designed and made here in NYC by two artists who created a line (recently put to rest) called Feral Childe. I love everything they designed, because each piece spoke to the dreamer in me. I pair this dress with an Afghani cotton scarf I got from a friend who was stationed there in the military. I think the patterns look so good together.

I hope you’ll look for and enjoy all the yellow…

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Feral Childe dress from 2013 with Afghani cotton scarf

Story N˚ 14: In Memoriam

I realize this Memorial Day weekend, as I think of my loved ones who have passed on, that I keep articles of clothing in memoriam. It’s something I have done unconsciously, until now.  Here are a few pieces I cherish.

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After my father died, I kept an old blue T-shirt he wore in softball games with his coworkers. My dad was always athletic:  football in high school; baseball and basketball. He taught us how to swim, and loved to go running.

This T-shirt has a faded number 8 on the back, chosen for the number of children he has. I used to wear it to run in, but I want to preserve it. Now, I wear it around the house when I need some familiar comfort.  It’s wonderfully soft from use.

My Grandpa O began his life on a potato farm in Idaho; he’s my mom’s dad. He was a natural at growing things, and remained an avid gardener throughout his life. Whenever he came to visit us in Florida, he would be fixing up our neglected garden, and setting up the compost pile by the fence with dried leaves on top.  The compost bin would appear by the sink, and we’d return to the practice of tossing in peels and organic waste.  I mostly remember him outdoors, staying busy.

Grandpa O had a light grey Champion sweatshirt that was passed on to me by my grandmother after he died. I also wear it to go running. Now, it has a small hole near the cuff burned by a camp fire cinder.

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One year, I went with my mom and siblings to Yellowstone for the first time. It was late May, so we Floridians thought it was practically summer, and therefore warm outside. We realized our thinking error as we drove past snow banks taller than the car. My brother, Dan, didn’t even bring a coat, so I lent him Grandpa O’s sweatshirt. Luckily, Dan knew how to build us a fire.  The evidence of this adventure is seared in the sleeve.
This sweatshirt reminds me of my grandpa working in the yard, and of a snowy May vacation with my family every time I wear it. It’s a great piece for wearing out of doors.

Now that I’m aware of my practice of keeping clothing, I have plenty more stories for Memorial Day.  I have so many loved ones who have passed on, and I love to remember them this way- through the clothing that touched their skin, through the pieces they lived life in.