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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Experimental Buy-Nothing Upcycled SoulWear Project #1

Good lord. Surely I'll think of something else to call these. In the meantime, however, I have just one thing to say to y'all: I. Am. Obsessed.


I don't know if this trait is part of an OCD spectrum, is something about the creative brain, is a habit or a personality quirk or some coping mechanism of the bored child or what, but it's one of the things I love most about my brain. Sure, my brain has its issues, but on the whole, it's been a fabulous companion, and I love the ways it develops coping mechanisms--ways to keep it occupied. I was a smart kid and a good kid, meaning I didn't have to work hard in school but wasn't about to get in trouble, so I'd finish things early and have to find some way to keep myself occupied. This was true when I had Real Jobs, as well--I'd get things done quickly and then have to find something to do to look busy. It's why I love working for myself, at home, alone: I can plow into things and work methodically through them, check the work, sign off on it, and move on. It beats the fire out of hanging around the coffee maker listening to coworkers talk about getting drunk on Saturday night or sitting through interminable meetings when you're thinking, "You know, I could have written up all those reports and had them typed [Note: we used to type things] and rearranged the office and gone shopping for toner and mopped the floor and re-written the budget by now."

Anyway. Obsession. I love it when an idea is so fabulous it grabs my brain and starts churning things up, and I've got to write more about this current one: SoulWear. I've been thinking about it rather a lot as I've been stitching and looking at Art to Wear, which I finally got my hands on after all these years of wanting to look at it but not wanting to fork out the $45 it would cost to buy a used copy online. But that's a whole nother post, so never mind.

This post is about the first of what I hope/think/imagine will be a whole slew of garments made from parts of other garments. It began with a mushroom/putty/some-color-I-don't- know linen skirt--Bryn Walker, my favorite line--left on my porch by my friend The Fabulous Miss Julia Who Has Changed My Life (she left a bag of linen garments that, remember, made me squeal. Loudly). It was ankle length, and I cut it off and and hemmed it and showed it to you here with a tank I had already dyed years ago and a t-shirt I planned to use. Remember?
 Here's the skirt, the cut-off-and-hemmed bottom section being worn as a shawl, and the old tank, to which I didn't do anything--
[Note: you won't see the tank again in these photos.]
Here's the t-shirt draped over one shoulder. It was old. I think I'd dyed it, but I don't know. Whenever I find large 100% cotton t-shirts with nothing on at least one side (meaning the logos and printing and whatever are confined to either the front or back or--if I'm really lucky--neither), I buy them. They're half-off on Sundays, so they're less than $1 each. Sometimes I leave them as is in case I need that color later on. Sometimes I toss them in with a load of dyeing the next time I dye. I don't remember--this isn't a color I'd dye things, but it could have been, say, yellow, and been dyed with pink. I don't really know, and it doesn't matter. None of these are colors I love; that was part of the challenge.

[Note: the only thing I bought for this project was thread and floss. I even had the roll of tracing paper I used for the pattern.]

I used the t-shirt for two things: to create a sleeveless t from the Alabama Chanin pattern in her latest book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, which is my second all-time favorite book right up there after Native Funk & Flashand for appliqué shapes.

I cut out the pattern and made some adjustments to the neckline and shoulders. Of course I did: I can't leave things alone. What I failed to do, however, is check the sizing. I cut out a medium, thinking that would fit, surely. Ricë the Dress Form is a size 8, so a medium must be right, right? Duh. If I'd taken 10 seconds to read the size chart in the book I would have known I needed a large. So I cut out and sewed the t-shirt and then--only then!--discovered that it was too snug. As in tackily snug: when you can see the indention of your belly button through your t-shirt because it's so tight? Ick. Tacky. It's like the teenage girls I see at Starbucks who are about 50 lbs overweight and are wearing those thin skinny t's so that everything not only shows but shows movement--every ripple and roll and jiggle is highlighted. There are many, many things we do not need to see. Belly buttons are only one of them.

So I heaved the big sigh and set about figuring out how to salvage this. If it had been too big, no problem: I could have taken it apart and cut it down. But it was too tight. I didn't have another t-shirt this color. What I had were some longish strips, and I hit upon the idea of creating a center panel. So after all that hand-stitching and felling of the side seams, I took the Ginghers and cut right up the middle, with only a slight wince. I inserted the panel, stitching it up, and then embellished. I had another t-shirt, and I used both of them to created the paisley-ish design--I kept drawing shapes until I got one I liked and used it as a template. I have those plastic circles templates in several sizes and used some of those. I used fusible webbing to hold them in place--I didn't want to have to pin them all: I stitch all over the house and carry projects with me, and I'm not so great at keeping track of pins. When I use them, I find them in the rugs (those fuzzy rugs that are all over the house, the ones that can be washed? Those), in the (yikes!) bed, in the furniture. So I try to avoid pinning whenever I can, although sometimes pinning something really well is the only option. In my imaginary world, you'd insert the pins, and they would lock in place until you removed them. Of course, in my imaginary world, all kinds of things are much more fabulous than they are in this world.

At about the middle of this project, before I added the burnt orange t-shirt appliqué parts, I ordered some beads from This is where I order my beads. There's nowhere here to buy beads besides Hobby Lobby and Michael's, and their selection is primarily for bead stringers. You know, those people who buy a hank of beads and re-string them and triple the price and then sell them to their coworkers. So while Michael's has a ton of those, they have very, very few seed beads. I used to love Jane's Fiber and Beads, but I got kind of disgusted after a while--they were always out of what I needed or didn't have something in stock and didn't know when they might again or they were moving or something--there was always some reason why I couldn't get what I needed when I needed it. So although I loathe the website for Artbeads, I order from them. [Note: a bead website should offer options. If I put red seed beads in my cart, the suggestions for "other items you might want" shouldn't show only other seed beads in the same size; it should also show other kinds of beads--bugles, chop, 6/0--in the same color. If they're really helpful, it should show links in related colors and in bead mixes in coordinating colors. Finding more beads in the same color should NOT be as difficult as it is--I gave up twice and walked away and came back later. I HATE their website. Love their beads, though.]

Anyway, I ordered some 8/0s and 6/0s (I think--I can't, of course, actually remember) in a peachy-coral-y color. Now that I've added the burnt orange, I don't know if the beads will work--the contrast may be too glaring. And I don't know if I like the shirt well enough to spend time beading it. I mean, this outfit isn't really my style: it was an experiment to find out what is possible for me. It's about whether I can combine old t-shirts and linen garments to make things I love, and it's about finding a pattern that works for garments--a tank top, a tunic in various lengths, a skirt, a wrap, etc.--to use as a base for all kinds of surface work, from embroidery to appliqué to stamping and stenciling to beading. It's about how far I can go with recycled clothing: how far can old t-shirts take me? And what skills do I need to work on to get there?

In the past, see, I never worked with knit. I don't have a serger and don't like the way serged seams look: too nuclear. I can't sew knit by machine--I've tried, and even stretch stitches look hideous. I don't like constructing garments by machine, in fact. I don't much like using the sewing machine for anything, really, never mind that I have four of them. What I like is hand stitching. But the reason I haven't created a wardrobe is that I don't like most patterns or the woven fabric I could use to make them. I'm thin, but I have broad shoulders, and woven cloth shirts have always driven me nuts--they bind across the shoulders and feel like straightjackets. I always wear t-shirts--long-sleeved, short-sleeved, 3/4-sleeved, sleeveless, tanks. I have about four dozen tanks in every color I could find or dye. I have no idea how many other ts I have with sleeves. Not designer ones, either: all basic plain cotton. I'm discovering what can be done to those.

The Alabama Chanin books have emboldened me. I love the look of her stuff, although not for me (different colors, different lengths and combinations of parts), and the books explain how to create sturdy wearable garments out of cotton jersey. I think the reason this third book is a revelation is that she explains the concept of creating a wardrobe of basic, unembellished pieces and then creating some of those as fully-embellished garments. This is what was holding me back: I hadn't thought it through, that I could make these just plain until I got the pattern completely tweaked. I was stuck thinking that I would make them all gussied up, but then what if they didn't fit? Weren't comfortable? Whatever? I often have tunnel vision, failing to think of things laterally but just seeing the tiny picture. I should work on this someday.

Anyway. Here's the finished "outfit"--except for beading, which I don't know about now. The beads still haven't arrived, and I think I'm ready to move on. (And it isn't like I don't have another long, complicated beading project that's been in the works for months now, waiting for me to get back to it.)
 I'm reallyreallyreally pleased with the whole shawl thing I made from the bottom of the skirt. I love the way it drapes, but I'm also just pleased with myself for having come up with the idea. Which I would never have done without Ricë. Yes, indeed: I already don't see how I did anything without her.
 This appliquéd border helps give the hem some nice weight. That's also why I was thinking about beading. As my mother would say, "We'll see. . . ."
 Side of the shawl-ish thing.
 Other side.

 This back center appliqué needs beads for sure. I so hate this tank, though. Plus there's a stain that ended up right on the butt.

 I had some color issues with the floss. I didn't have the orange I needed, if you can believe that: me = missing a shade of orange floss. I needed the same weight of orange that I had with the pink: see the contrast between the light and dark pink? It needs that same contrast between the two oranges. The one I needed is the one orange that every local store is out of, of course. We even tried Odessa, pathetically. I cannot say how much I hate shopping here.
 I would be a lot happier if I'd used floss for the neck band, too. I don't like this stiff, clunky look, not for a tank. For a coat or jacket, maybe.

 I will not use this tank pattern again, even though I got the neckline like I like it and am pleased with the center panel. It's too long and shapeless, and I don't like the shoulders. I think her short fitted tank (or whatever it's called) will work if I tweak the neckline--whereas this shirt, above, had a neckline that was too high (I hate things that come anywhere near my throat), the fitted tank has one that looks, on the models, to be too low--so low your bra would show, which is just silly: you'd have to keep tugging at it, and clothes should NOT demand any attention from you once you put them on.).
If I loved this shirt, it would need a lot more work. It's too plain, but I don't think it's worth messing with. It's too thin, for one thing: it doesn't hold its shape and stretches too much (the t was very old). I cut a ton of pulls (from the book) to try couching, but the fabric isn't sturdy enough to support them. I'm not wild about the color. I hate the banding around the neck and armholes--this is the way it says to do it in the book--folding over strips and sewing them in place with stretch stitches using the button and craft thread. But it looks clunky to me, and I hate it. For the next piece I'm getting ready to start, I've cut the strips half this wide, and I'm going to sew them against the edge without folding them under. I'll use embroidery floss. The book says floss isn't strong enough and won't last, but I don't know: I've got a journal skirt that is falling apart--the denim fabric (it was a pair of Levi's 501s) is wearing through and has to be patched every time I wear it. It's ancient and has been worn and laundered dozens and dozens of times. But the floss is still intact, and the beading I did on the back yoke, using regular sewing thread and glass beads, is still just as good as ever *except* in the places where the fabric wore out underneath it, if you can believe that. So while the book is emphatic that you use the button and craft thread for almost everything (except some of the embellishment), I don't think that's necessary. I'll keep using it for the seams, I think--at least for a while--but I'm going to use floss for everything else. I don't know about for the beading--she says to use it and a #10 needle for that, but I have a huge collection of 11/0 seed beads--that's the bulk of what I have--and this thread isn't going to go through those. I don't know what kind of needle I use, but it's tiny--it's the only one that will go through the seed beads--and there's no way the thread will go through it. I don't know where I can get "chop" beads--they look like 6/0 or 8/0 rounds, but I can't tell. So I've got some thinking to do there. I'd love to have a collection of these larger round beads, but I can't see not using what I have, and, honeys, I have a ton of 11/0 beads. Sigh.

OK--so that's what I've been doing. I've learned a lot in the process: about linen (it is just as happy to go down as it is up, meaning that while linen is usually thought of as a dressy, CruiseWear-ish kind of thing, expensive and impractical, in truth good linen is thrilled to have raw-edge appliqué and hang out with tanks and jeans. In fact, from what I can tell, it's way happier to live casually, un-ironed and free. My mother was of the Upscale Linen mind, and she eschewed it entirely as being way, way too demanding. When my mother ironed her clothing and put it on, she expected it to stay ironed until she took it off. But this was a woman who ironed pillow cases. I grew up thinking linen was too demanding, hoity-toity, a stuck-up Diva who would let you wear her for about five minutes and then demand to be taken off and re-ironed. Ergo, I never owned linen until just the last year or so when I realized her true nature. Like Melly Testa and I were talking about: it is linen's nature to be wrinkled. She is a comfortable, earthy old hippie chick, not a thin-lipped diva in white gloves. She abhors starch. She loathes the iron. She is delighted to hang out with her old friend, the faded t-shirt.

OK--enough. Obviously I've been spending too much time alone in the sewing studio.
Snort. As if that were possible.

Which is where I'm headed right now. . . .XO


TheFairyyellowbugQueen said...

Keep snortin' gal! Norma, xo

Angela Recada said...

I really, really love (LOVE!) what you do with clothes that often start out looking like they are beyond hope!

It's something I toy with trying. But, I'm curious. After you add all the gorgeous applique, embroidery and beads, do you have to be uber-careful about washing and otherwise caring for these little works of art?

Ricë said...

Oh, no! Nonononononono! Just like I don't believe in wearing clothes that have to be tugged and adjusted while you're wearing them, I don't believe in having clothes that have to be treated like queens. If I can't toss it in the washer and dryer, it can't live in this house. Now, granted, I just this year learned that there are "settings" on the dryer, that everything doesn't have to be dried on Scorch. That was a useful revelation. Also this past year I learned that there are settings on the washing machine. The EGE had been using them for years; I had washed everything on Heavy Duty. For something like this, I might use a lower setting in the wash. If it's got a ton of embellishment, I might use a lingerie bag, but probably not--only rarely.

Sharon Robb-Chism said...

I really like this outfit, even if the colors are not what I would wear. I like the concept...take something and re-figure it into something wonderful. And don't waste using the cut off hem for the shrug. And I'm with you all the way when it comes to shirts or blouses. I can't wear them...gimme a T-shirt or knit top every time. :=)

Angela Recada said...

That's (obviously!) what I was hoping your answer would be. Thanks!

Jeannie said...

I love the swirls and dots and the shawl like thing is fantastic! I am with you on linen. When I heard Melly and you discuss it, I loved every word. Thanks!

Suella said...

Love the look of this outfit. What a shame you aren't happy with the quality of the t. I hope you can replace it with something more suitable.

Off to look at my few skirts for the shortening thereof...

Kim said...

What a great outfit. I've been intrigued by the Alabama Chanin books, despite their cost and was thinking about ordering one. However, I was pretty disappointed that they consider a size 8 a large.

While I'm certainly not fat, I'm pretty curvy and proportionate to my height, bigger than a size 8. Kinda sad that she has left out a sizable segment of the population. At least I can thank you that I saved some money.

Robyn A said...

Are you serious that size 8 is a large? OOMG - I have ordered the book from Amazon which hasn't arrived yet (Australia) and maybe I can't use it. I am an abundant person, definitely way bigger than an 8! Oh well, present for a skinny friend. The skirt and wrap look great and I would love to see them on you but if the T makes you unhappy, at least it gave you something to experiment on. Beads are going to look great on that wrap - you could use bugles as well as seed beads and try using beading thread instead of floss just to get it through the beads. I use C-Lon because it comes in lots of colours. Great post, Rice.

Wendy said...

Hmm there is something about that yin yang, paisley-like curl that is so satisfying to draw and to look at.

And I'm with you about undemanding clothes - when you wear a garment it should be you wearing it, not the other way around! If I have to struggle to keep it in place, if it acts as if it has a mind of its own, it comes off pretty quick.

Linda said...

Turned out beautifully. Well done.