Sewing A Men’s Linen Sport Coat, Part 412: Sleeve LINING

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About a thousand years ago, I started sewing a sport coat for my husband using a beautiful navy linen we purchased on a Spring Break trip to Mood Fabrics in New York City–you can read the original posts here.

Along the way, I made a muslin, as any good seamstress would do with an investment piece like a sport coat, and my husband had a fitting.  I asked for his feedback, and he gave it.

And that’s when the brakes went on.

mens sport coat sewing pattern

I asked him what he would want changed, and he told me.  And I took it personally.  I was bummed that even though I considered myself more than competent, I didn’t get it “right” straight out of the box on the first try.  Which sounds crazycakes to me now, but at the time, I wasn’t listening?  I was just feeling?  And it felt bad to make something for someone else and have it not land the way I’d hoped.

I set the jacket aside for a bit.  I figured I’d come back to it.  And then we moved into a new studio space, and it got bagged and boxed up.  And then I moved out of that space and into our finished basement, which allows me a bigger studio space, and the bag and the box moved along with me.  The jacket was in a sliding drawer labeled “WIPs” and stayed there for a long, long time.

And then Valentine’s Day was coming up.  I thought, what would be meaningful to give my husband?  What would he WANT?  And I remembered the jacket.

This is starting to sound like a children’s book a little, but I swear this is how it all happened.

I remembered the jacket, and I thought: THIS would make him feel good, to finish this project which he has assuredly mentioned once per year since it was put away, tucked into a plastic zippy bag along with my Feelings.  I will make this jacket.

And I did make it, I worked on it up until Valentine’s Day, and I gave him the incomplete jacket, saying that a work in progress is a beautiful thing:

Which it is.

We did another fitting.  He pronounced it good.  I knew it wasn’t perfect.  I still wanted him to WANT it, to feel good about wearing it, but I’d taken myself out of the equation a little more than I could do six years ago, I’d asked my ego to maybe step aside on this one, and think about the act of sewing as a loving gesture that’s given with an open hand, and without concern for how it makes me look–like, maybe the product I’m producing isn’t about whether I myself am good, maybe we can learn to just make the gesture be good, and if the project needs refining, it’s not about my worth.

No good gift is given when we are pursuing our own needs, I think.  The best gifts are given with deep altruism, from a desire to show love to another human without expectation of return.

I got all the way to the final step: hemming the sleeves. And I was trying to get them to lie flat so I could pin the hem in place where it bags a bit at the wrist, and man, it just didn’t want to play. I was feeling frustrated, when I realized that the facings where the lapels turned back to the interior and partially line the jacket were all….lumpy.

There’s just no other word for it.

And the diagnosis I came up with was that the facings, when they were stitched BY HAND to the lining at the armhole, didn’t fit properly and are misaligned. So here’s this selfless act of love that I’m making as I slog my way through lessons about my own ego and how it tells me (false) stories about the source of my self-worth, and THE DARN THING DOESN’T WORK.

Here’s the funny part: I don’t really mind all that much. I ripped out those stitches by hand during a socially distant coffee date the other morning, and it was…FUN. It felt like a REAL gift to UN-do all the work I’d done, and go back and do it BETTER, as a statement about the care and effort I’m willing to expend for the people who matter to me.

Somehow, after gestating in that plastic zippy bag for more than half a decade, this jacket has morphed from being a finger pointing at me telling me how I’ve failed, to being a treasure that I’m delighted to complete to the best of my ability–still imperfect, but that’s not ME who’s imperfect, it’s me who’s doing what I can with what I have to show up as the best version of me for the people I care about.

TL; DR — The jacket still isn’t finished, and I’m growing as a human being.

Lost Project: Vacation Tova Top

I’ve loved this Amy Butler print for years and years. Back when I owned a retail shop, I made a sample Tova Top from this sweet cotton lawn and used it as a display sample. In a moment of weakness, I gave it away, and regretted it ever after–so quickly after that I went out and bought yards of it to hoard. But hoarded fabric isn’t a replacement top, so a couple years later, I made another–because that’s the magic of sewing! I can just MAKE ANOTHER! #noragrets

I think of this as my “vacation top.” Somehow, when I’m packing–usually at the last minute, usually from the pile of clean folded clothes that aren’t yet put away, usually just by grabbing things that I think will feel good to wear on our trip–this top always seems to make it in the bag. And no matter where I’ve worn it, this top is the perfect choice. With hiking pants, with dressy shorts, over a swimsuit, tucked into a denim skirt: it always works.

I wore it on our recent hiking tour of the Utah National Parks, I wore it salt water fishing in the Florida Keys, I wore it on our trip to Japan by bullet train, I wore it to visit my in-laws and to fly to Paris.

When I was recently invited to host a Friday cocktail hour with Mom2.0 on Insta, I initially picked this top to wear behind the bar–it’s soft and comfortable and easy to move in, the sleeves are just the right length, and the open neckline keeps me from overheating and getting The Sweats under lights and pressure. (I ended up going with a yellow short-sleeved knit top that evening because: Signature Color, but it was a game-time decision, for sure.)

I’ve made the Tova Top before and want to double down on my review: I can’t believe this thing has ZERO interfacing, and boy, is that the EXACT RIGHT CHOICE. It creates a real drape and softness in the placket opening and collar, and I’m glad every time I put it on that I followed the instructions.

As with so many of my Lost Projects, this one has seen a lot of Instagram time, but never appeared here on the blog. Funny how the things I wear the most don’t get blogged? but worn? I wonder what would happen if we all pulled our Most Worn garments out of our closets and laid them on the bed, maybe did some analysis of what themes emerge…

I smell a plan cooking. I’ll probably wear this top while I ruminate.

Ann Lowe: A Great Woman of Sewing

The word “dressmaker” seems to speak differently to me than the word “seamstress.” Almost as if I think a dressmaker is someone who sews for herself but a seamstress sews for others? Historically, I’m not sure that’s true, but in this case, the case of Ann Lowe, it seems to be.

Wedding dresses lean into the iconic by their very nature: the bridal gown is a garment whose sole purpose is to carry a human across the boundary between one identity and another. People put a lot of weight on a wedding gown, embedding a great deal of meaning into each seam. Marriage is a sacrament, an outward sign of an inward transformation, that in every culture worldwide stands as a unique bond between individuals, a leap into faith that the future will hold, ultimately, joy and reward. We hold weddings in public, not because we need the approval of others, but because the public nature of a wedding brings to the delicate, intimate bond formed between bride and groom the weight of consequence and gravitas. The bridal gown is an outward signifier of all those invisible truths, and holds a unique place in culture as a result.

This gown, I mean. THIS gown is infamous. It carries not only the weight of the wedding day itself, and the identity of the bride, but also the tragedy of the lives that were tied together that afternoon, and the scandal of the stories they lived.

It was designed by a woman named Ann Lowe.

Ann Lowe was born in Clayton, Alabama in 1898. Ann’s mother was a dressmaker who died suddenly when Ann was only 16. Still in high school, Ann took over and completed her mother’s unfinished designs on time, including a commission from the First Lady of Alabama in 1914.

She learned early and paid attention, that much is clear: she loved making fabric flowers and embellishing dresses with them, a design element that appears throughout her later work. She was talented enough to be accepted at the prestigious S. T. Taylor Design School in New York City at the age of 19, where she was frequently held up as an example of good technique to her all-white classmates; as the only Black student, Ann was given a separate space in which to sit and work, apart from the other designers.

I think about that a lot, about this woman before World War I, leaving a tiny town in Alabama to head to the Big Apple, knowing she would be intentionally segregated from the other students but driven to attend, all the same. That she must have really, really wanted to learn to be willing to subject herself to those circumstances.

Which is not to say Ann Lowe was more-than-human, or a saint. Not at all. By all accounts, Ann Lowe was a poor businesswoman, and more than one historian has used the word “snob.” She is regularly quoted as saying, “I love my clothes and I’m particular about who wears them…I am not interested in sewing for… social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Social Register.” I wonder if that bent toward the American aristocracy came from her boot-strapping youth, her knowledge that these people in power could hold the key to her livelihood.

It also made her overlook the sound business principles that might have created a viable income stream from her formidable talent. Ann Lowe designed for the elite of the Main Line, for wealthy families with political connections. She made unique gowns for debutantes and governors’ wives. She designed and constructed the gown in which Olivia de Havilland collected her Oscar for The Snake Pit. And by all accounts, Ann Lowe died penniless and largely unsung.

The most famous story about Lowe is the one from the Kennedy wedding. Making all those debutante dresses along the Main Line connected Ann Lowe to some pretty high-falutin’ folk. One of those, Janet Lee Bouvier, came from an old Southern family and had a daughter who was set to marry the junior senator from Massachusetts in a lavish Newport wedding.

The dress may not have even been what Jacqueline Bouvier wanted for her wedding day. She was Cinderella, but it was Kennedy’s father, Joe, who had the final say on the bridal gown. It was to be elaborate, made of the finest silk with trapunto detailing that built up three-dimensional extravagance to surround the bridal couple as they walked down the aisle.

Lowe labored over the dress for weeks leading up to the wedding day. Just hours before she was scheduled to deliver it to Newport for the ceremony, disaster struck: her studio was flooded, and the bridesmaids’ dresses along with the indulgent gown were destroyed.

What was she to do? Losing this commission could mean the loss of her business, her reputation, her connections to the elite of society. So Ann bit the bullet and re-purchased the fabric with her own money, hired additional seamstresses to replicate the labor in a matter of hours that had taken days and days to create, and arrived to deliver the dresses on time.

And this is where the details of the story all agree but didn’t make sense to me for a long while: when Ann Lowe arrived on the doorstep to deliver the gowns, carrying a loss of nearly two thousand 1953 dollars over her arms that came from her own pocket, she was told to go around back and use the colored entrance.

Her reply, according to every report I could find: if she had to use the back door, “I’ll take the dresses back,” and walked right on through the main entrance.

When I have read that quote, over and over, I loved it. I assume that every other writer did, as well. It’s the statement of a woman who has HAD IT with the BS, and isn’t going to take it anymore. But somehow it didn’t track with the other details of Lowe’s story: she’s a snob, so she admires the social set, but she can’t belong to it because she’s Black; she won’t use the back door, so she’s proud, but she spent her own money on the dresses in order to maintain her connection to these families.

Hang on to that dichotomy while we unveil (if you’ll excuse the pun) the rest of the wedding day.

Ann delivered the dresses. They were a smash. The Kennedy wedding is often referred to as the most photographed wedding in American history. The dress itself is on display in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. And the story goes, when asked who designed her gown by Life Magazine, that Jackie replied, “A colored designer did it.”

By all accounts, Ann Lowe was crushed. This was her MOMENT, and the bride erased her from the story.

So when I think about the woman who wouldn’t use the back door, I wonder why she bothered at all. These families talked about Lowe as the “best kept secret,” but a woman who refuses to go in the back doesn’t WANT to be a secret. I wonder if Ann Lowe believed that her sacrifice to deliver those gowns was the moment when it would all pay off for her–and that refusing to use the back door was a sign that she believed she’d achieved real success and recognition.

Had she been white, I have no doubt that would have been the case. But again and again, Ann Lowe’s designs have been minimized or elimiated from the history books. Lists of dresses worn by Oscar winners cite the designer of Olivia de Havilland’s 1947 dress as “unknown.” In 1961, Ann and her team hand-beaded dozens of gowns in a Saks Fifth Avenue commission for the Ak-Ben-Sur fraternity in Nebraska at a significant financial loss, and was never given named credit for her work.

When later Jackie Kennedy made another comment to the press that Ann Lowe felt minimized her, she wrote a letter to the First Lady and let her know; they eventually reconciled and worked together for years, but my instincts tell me that Lowe never forgot that on the chance of her big break, she was reduced to the color of her skin rather than the skill of her needle.

Today, Ann Lowe is recognized not simply for being the first major Black dress designer with a fashion house on Madison Avenue, but for her bold designs that have touched American history. Her gowns are on display in both the Museum of American History and the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. Her skill with fabric flowers is jaw-dropping. She attended Paris Fashion Week in the 1940s and met Christian Dior, who hailed her skill. She was named Couturier of the Year in 1961, which included the honor of naming her to the Social Register for whom she sewed–you don’t have to watch many Hepburn films to understand just how enormous a thing that was to achieve, for anyone.

In 1963, she was forced to declare bankruptcy.

The story of Ann Lowe is often reduced to one of resilience–which is certainly is. This is a woman who should, by all accounts, have fallen apart and never gotten back up. The town she’s from in Alabama? So tiny that I’ve never heard of it, and I lived there from the age of four. It’s not a big state, and everyone you know knows everyone you know there, so this was a tiny, tiny town she was from. Yet here I’m writing about her, over 100 years later, and her skill with a needle, linking to her creations at the foremost museum of American culture in the world.

She was a Black woman working for white elites in a white-dominated industry, and she was revered by all who enjoyed her work, including her esteemed peers.

Her bankruptcy? Didn’t ruin her. An anonymous donor–rumored to have been Jackie Kennedy Onassis herself–paid her debt and enabled her to continue designing into her late 90s, despite failing eyesight and hearing.

Most articles either celebrate that Ann Lowe overcame circumstances, or they bemoan that she was given so little credit. Much of the writing about her has been in the past year–like, more than 90% of the information available has been published in that time–based on the effects of a single viral tweet. Which makes this a story of a woman who could and should have been given more attention but for the lack of financial resources to get it.

She certainly had the skills. She had the start in the industry. She lacked solid financial advice and bookkeeping to maintain the momentum of her successes. It’s beyond argument that color of her skin prevented her from accessing the resources that could have allowed her to turn her own moxie into an empire; without those, she was constantly struggling, despite her talent.

There is a whole long list of Black designers who created real art with their needles–and their names were forgotten or glossed over, even erased on purpose so the credit could go to someone else. That happens to non-Black designers too, to be sure, but I’d like to ask you to consider: does it happen more to Black designers because the ones doing the erasing think it doesn’t count? or that they won’t speak up? or that they can get away with it because “who’s gonna believe a colored designer made that”?

Ann Lowe was talented and admired. She created art with fabric, and she used it to build iconic works of fashion that we revere to this day. I believe, in her own way, Ann forged ahead through racism and elitism to gain ground for herself and the other Black designers who came after her. Ann Lowe is a Great Woman of Sewing.

Sewing Is Political

If you sew, it’s no surprise to you that sewing is political.

It always has been.

Humans are political beings. We each of us feel our hearts beat faster and our chests expand when we see the world around us behave in ways that we find unacceptable, even unconscionable. We don’t all agree with one another, but we all FEEL.

That’s where the stitches come from: the part of us, on the inside, that reacts and responds, that feels deeply and connects profoundly, that reflects our most deeply held truths.

National Quilt Museum block of the month Jan 2020

Sewing is the rare tactile art form that is meant to be touched, caressed, embraced, worn, loved, laundered, kissed over and kissed under, and passed along by hand. It is tangible and intimate, and it thrives most when shared.

So how can something like sewing, which is so personal, NOT intersect with politics, which are SO PERSONAL?

Tiny Pricks Project from Lingua Franca

The act of making IS a statement, a way of using the everyday to speak about the impact every day makes on the future.  Diana Weymar is collecting 2,020 hand-embroidered Trump quotes prior to the November elections; sewing blogs worldwide reflect the desire of stitchers to connect what they make with what they believe; poets and novelists and madwomen have all used sewing as a way to communicate injustice and outrage throughout history. As one stitcher put it, “It’s like the silent resisters. You don’t have to have a bombastic feed on Twitter. You can just pick up a needle and have a powerful statement.” link

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama

Two years ago, our family visited the Legacy Museum at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, sponsored by EJI.  It’s a tiny museum, about the same square footage as the average American suburban home.  Around the last corner of the displays, there is a wall with an enormous image of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  It states that slavery is illegal in the US…except in the case of convicted criminals.

This was the first time in my life that I’d maybe even read that constitutional amendment.  It was certainly the first time I had really digested what it made plain: that men in power, faced with the loss of a labor force that made their economic system viable, had intentionally and deliberately created a new system by which they were incentivized to criminalize Black men and women in order to exploit them for free labor.

The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution

I was nauseated.  I felt as though I’d been punched in the gut.  It was a tragic moment of realization that I had been carried along by a system that was grossly immoral AND WAS MADE THAT WAY ON PURPOSE.  There is no denying that the Thirteenth Amendment was crafted as it was through forethought and debate, with the very clear intent of doing exactly what it did: filling American prisons with Black citizens to make white business and land owners wealthy.

We left after that visit and my view of racism in America was permanently changed.  I began to see just how many subtle and intricate pathways have been built that perpetuate the underpinning of that amendment, from fear of Black men to “three strikes” laws and beyond.  

And I did exactly…nothing.

I could make excuses and say that I was processing; it would be true.  I could justify my inaction because I was overwhelmed with the scale of the problem; that would be true, too.  But the greatest revelation I have had in recent weeks is that I DID NOTHING BECAUSE THE SYSTEM BENEFITS ME.  All of us who have grown up white in the United States have been the beneficiaries of privilege because the men who wrote that amendment set it up that way–at the expense of our Black neighbors. 

Current view of the protests in Atlanta, Georgia following the death of Rayshard Brooks on June 13, 2020

Less than five miles from where I sit, there is a demonstration taking place. A thunderstorm is threatening, and still there are neighbors from my own city who are stretched in the grass, on quilts somebody’s mother made by hand (to quote another political artist), lying down in protest because their hearts beat faster and their chests expand from the truth that the murder of George Floyd wasn’t an isolated incident, that yet another one of our Black neighbors has been shot and killed, and that for all our good intentions, we are ALL COMPLICIT.

Every time someone has made a counter-argument to the Black Lives Matter movement, or has made a statement challenging the death of George Floyd, or implied that systemic racism is “history,” I come back to the Thirteenth Amendment. We are not imagining it. It is still part of our nation’s fabric, in writing, and invisibly guiding our culture.

“Black and brown and white and orange” by Karen Maple

I have been in a position, through no merit of my own, that if the lives of the Black population in my city were at risk, I could shake my head and feel sorrow, and then go back to cooking supper or constructing a quilt.  My compassion was real, but no action was required from me.  I have done nothing BECAUSE MY LIFE MOVED FORWARD EVEN IF I REMAINED SILENT.  

I want to be better than that.  I want to be a better neighbor, a better human, a person who doesn’t just feel shame but who actively seeks to DO MORE and to MAKE IT RIGHT.

If you have a heart for racial justice and sewing but have not yet encountered the work of Chawne Kimber, her quilts will be an emotional experience.

I sincerely believe that sewing is a place where we can make a unique impact.  Sewing IS political.  It offers a means of making a statement that can be shared and repeated, and a way to reflect and review so that when we return to the fight, we are strengthened, because “with stitch you need to put in such concentration that the rest of your body and your mind are allowed to heal.” link

I feel overwhelmed with how much there is to do in pursuit of racial justice, and how little I still understand about how to make a difference.  This is about more than a single life or an isolated death–this is about DISMANTLING A SYSTEM OF RACIAL DISPARITY THAT IS INVISIBLE TO THE PEOPLE WHO GET THE MOST OUT OF IT.  I know for sure that I don’t know enough now to lead that change, but I feel a sense of urgency to take action that is meaningful and that will call me into accountability, that makes an impact I can see today and sets me up to keep re-visiting my own questions and blindness and the disparity between my daily experience and what my Black neighbors are living.

“Get Woke” by Chawne Kimber

I’m starting with an IMMEDIATE action: I’m donating money to organizations with a track record that I trust, where I know the funds will be used wisely and strategically.  I’ve chosen the Equal Justice Initiative and Southern Poverty Law Center, both based in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.  I’ve either visited or used resources from both these organizations, and I am convinced of their ethical mission to make lasting change in our communities through directly addressing the laws that have targeted Black citizens for decades.

That’s me personally, as Deborah.  I also feel deeply convicted that Whipstitch, as a company, represents a voice in the sewing & crafting community, and as such has a burden to carry the message of racial justice into that niche.  So Whipstitch will be matching Deborah’s personal contribution with a corporate one, dollar for dollar.  It’s important to me as a leader for my company, where I now have a virtual staff of five, to move forward in practical, tangible ways that show action in addition to emotion.  Whipstitch will also be matching any employee contributions, up to $500 per employee, to organizations dedicated to racial justice and equality.

I’m following that immediate action with ACCOUNTABILITY.  My goal is to create pathways that draw me and our sewing & quilting community into a more conscious awareness of how much we benefit from the contributions of Black makers.  I am starting with my series on Great Women of Sewing, focusing the next four installments on Black dressmakers.  (Ironic sidenote: three of those are names I had planned to feature already, since I like to profile prolific or impactful makers who have been unsung or overlooked, and it turns out many of those are Black–so there’s a little microcosm for you.)  

My goal with the series, which includes a post celebrating Rosa Parks, whose seamstress skills uniquely positioned her to pursue the mission of civil rights, is to draw attention to the ways that Black makers have ALWAYS been at the foundation of sewing + design, and have often been disregarded, plagiarized, or dismissed as a result of their race–and still their work has made an indelible mark on our cultural landscape that benefits all of us.  If I am serious about changing the story we tell ourselves about race and culture in our nation, I must be serious about investigating the history of how credit for creative work, which can elevate an individual, is often re-routed to ennoble the white majority at the expense of talented Black makers.

These aren’t fun things to say.  They feel bad to read.  They’re also true.  And that’s not OK.  That’s not justice, and it isn’t love.

“White America” by Jessica Wohl

I know there must be more I can do.  I am endeavoring, with humility I hope, to start where I am, with what I have, rather than excusing inaction with the rationalization that I’ll do more when I know more.  I should have been speaking up more and shutting up less.  I am compelled to give up some of the complacency that my privilege has afforded me in exchange for living the mandate that love requires of me: to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly.

I thought I was before. I can see now that I am capable of and impelled to do more.  I’m sorry it has taken me this long.  Sewing has always been political, because our lives are sewn into those stitches, and the work of our hands comes from the overflow of our hearts.  I’m praying that my heart hears the message clearly, that there can be justice for Black lives in America, and that I can be part of building a world where every voice is heard.

Photo credits are linked to individual images. All images used under Creative Commons license and rights belong to their respective owners.

Men’s Pocket Square in Liberty of London Lawn

As I near completion of the men’s sport coat I started six years ago, I am sprinkling in small projects that I can easily complete. It’s not really a deliberate move to make me more “productive,” although I’d love to give myself credit for that. It’s more like, that coat makes me feel a little underwater sometimes, where I’ve painstakingly hand-stitched the sleeve lining to the armholes only to realize that the facings aren’t straight and it all has to come back out…and turning to another project so I can step back from that one for a minute feels like a good thing.

In this case: it’s a companion project. My husband and I were at a men’s store that he loves about two months ago, looking at ties and pocket squares. The pocket square, I suspect, is making a comeback after seeming to be overlooked in men’s fashion for a long time? Back me up on that, someone.

The ones we liked were very, very expensive. Like, $75 for a 16″ square of cotton, expensive. And as we browsed the selection, I realized that while some of them were clearly exotic and imported, a lot of them were Liberty lawns. I have an impressive array of Liberty lawns in my studio, which I kinda famously bought one evening when I was enjoying a glass of wine and unwisely in front of my computer with my wallet nearby and a discount code burning a hole in my self-control.

I figured, why not? Let’s give it a shot to sew our own pocket squares. Worst case: they’re only OK. Best case: we discover limitless possibility.

I started by considering the hem. I wanted to do a tiny machine-rolled hem at first, I think because after all that hand sewing that needed to be ripped out of the sport coats lining where it was falling crookedly, I didn’t feel up to attempting a hand-rolled hem. But the corners really eluded me, they were just so teensy tiny I didn’t feel satisfied with the quality of the work. Since a pocket square is so small but also highly visible along the hemline, I figured the hem really needed to be excellent.

In the end, I made these identically to my fancy napkins tutorial, but used a scant 1/4″ hem along the edges, and mitered the corners. They look lovely, and I don’t think the slightly wider hem adds too much weight–if these were heavier fabrics, I’d be concerned that the thicker hem would drag the corners down when it’s worn in the sport coat pocket, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

I love a simple project. I love when sewing saves money by allowing us to feel “fancy” but without the price tag. It feels like winning. And even more than that, maybe most of all, I love the feeling when my husband comes into the kitchen in a suit and he’s fussing with the pocket square I sewed for him, excited to wear it for his digital conference that day, all dressed up to work remotely. Sewing, even small things, gives me such giant rewards when it makes our today better.

Deliberate Transitions

There was an article in the LA Times in the past week about getting dressed to stay home, and the author is experiencing this HUGE backlash where people (mostly on Twitter) are saying that the idea of “enough with the sweatpants” is (1) insulting to people who are really struggling right now, and (2) shouldn’t be advice accepted from someone who looks like [insert insulting description of the journalist here]. There is certainly a conversation to be had here about privilege, and how that relates to the whole idea of “getting dressed.” Sheltering in place, but even just working from home BEFORE quarantine, required a certain level of privilege just to happen, and that feels overlooked right now. Some folks don’t have an option about what they wear, because their work demands a uniform or clothes that can take a beating. Others are in a financial situation where the mere idea of thinking about their wardrobe seems laughable, and “getting dressed” means making do.

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Get Dressed On Purpose and With Purpose

This is the fifth post in a series about how getting dressed, even when you’re only going from your bedroom to the living room and back again, can have an enormous impact on your mood, your sense of self, and how well you handle stress and change.  I know very well the temptation to wear only stretchy pants and sweatshirts when working from (or just staying) home; I also know the insidious ways in which giving in to that temptation ate away at my ability to fight through mental fog and maintain a healthy headspace.

I learned through trial and error, by working from home over the past ten+ years–and then, as the result of some dark days, actively altering what I wear over the past two years–that there are some basic guidelines I can employ when getting dressed each day that give me the tools and the margin to intentionally improve my outlook and mental health.  I’m sharing them here in hopes they’ll create a framework where we can have a bigger conversation about how sewing our own clothes allows us a window through which we can feed our hearts and minds.

For the introduction to the series, visit this post, and for a deeper dive, join us at the League of Dressmakers, where we’re developing this topic in greater depth, complete with silhouette guides, sewing pattern suggestions, video discussions and live chats!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my debt of gratitude to Elaine, a League of Dressmakers member who pointed me toward Stasia’s Style School–I confess that I completed only the first two lessons of Style School, but the impact of Stasia’s message from just that little taste was so huge for me.  Her newsletters are a delight to read, and her TEDx Talk will change the way you think about fashion.

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Pants Are For Every OTHER Day

This is the fourth post in a series about how getting dressed, even when you’re only going from your bedroom to the living room and back again, can have an enormous impact on your mood, your sense of self, and how well you handle stress and change.  I know very well the temptation to wear only stretchy pants and sweatshirts when working from (or just staying) home; I also know the insidious ways in which giving in to that temptation ate away at my ability to fight through mental fog and maintain a healthy headspace.

I learned through trial and error, by working from home over the past ten+ years–and then, as the result of some dark days, actively altering what I wear over the past two years–that there are some basic guidelines I can employ when getting dressed each day that give me the tools and the margin to intentionally improve my outlook and mental health.  I’m sharing them here in hopes they’ll create a framework where we can have a bigger conversation about how sewing our own clothes allows us a window through which we can feed our hearts and minds.

For the introduction to the series, visit this post, and for a deeper dive, join us at the League of Dressmakers, where we’re developing this topic in greater depth, complete with silhouette guides, sewing pattern suggestions, video discussions and live chats!

3.  Never wear pants two days in a row

Once I moved jeans out of my every day rotation, I found it a challenge to avoid the trap of simply replacing jeans with a different fabric, and still basically wearing the same uniform every day: cords or khakis plus a tee and a cardigan might be a step up, but not way up.  The temptation to lean into resistance, to avoid change or to simply revert to old habits, was strong–and it would have been so simple to swap out non-jeans-pants and check that box.

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Stop With The Jeans Every Day. Stop.

This is the third post in a series about how getting dressed, even when you’re only going from your bedroom to the living room and back again, can have an enormous impact on your mood, your sense of self, and how well you handle stress and change.  I know very well the temptation to wear only stretchy pants and sweatshirts when working from (or just staying) home; I also know the insidious ways in which giving in to that temptation ate away at my ability to fight through mental fog and maintain a healthy headspace.

I learned through trial and error, by working from home over the past ten+ years–and then, as the result of some dark days, actively altering what I wear over the past two years–that there are some basic guidelines I can employ when getting dressed each day that give me the tools and the margin to intentionally improve my outlook and mental health.  I’m sharing them here in hopes they’ll create a framework where we can have a bigger conversation about how sewing our own clothes allows us a window through which we can feed our hearts and minds.

For the introduction to the series, visit this post, and for a deeper dive, join us at the League of Dressmakers, where we’re developing this topic in greater depth, complete with silhouette guides, sewing pattern suggestions, video discussions and live chats!

2.  Jeans are no more than once a week, including weekends

I wore jeans every single day for…five years? Maybe?  Seriously. EVERY DAY. Outside of date nights or special occasions, I pretty much grabbed my jeans from the bench at the foot of our bed each morning, threw on a clean tee shirt and my favorite cardigan, and that was “dressed.”  I had a closet FILLED with dresses and skirts, but I never, ever wore them, and when I did, I thought I looked weird.

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Wear ALL the Things!

This is the second post in a series about how getting dressed, even when you’re only going from your bedroom to the living room and back again, can have an enormous impact on your mood, your sense of self, and how well you handle stress and change.  I know very well the temptation to wear only stretchy pants and sweatshirts when working from (or just staying) home; I also know the insidious ways in which giving in to that temptation ate away at my ability to fight through mental fog and maintain a healthy headspace.

I learned through trial and error, by working from home over the past ten+ years–and then, as the result of some dark days, actively altering what I wear over the past two years–that there are some basic guidelines I can employ when getting dressed each day that give me the tools and the margin to intentionally improve my outlook and mental health.  I’m sharing them here in hopes they’ll create a framework where we can have a bigger conversation about how sewing our own clothes allows us a window through which we can feed our hearts and minds.

For the introduction to the series, visit this post, and for a deeper dive, join us at the League of Dressmakers, where we’re developing this topic in greater depth, complete with silhouette guides, sewing pattern suggestions, video discussions and live chats!

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For almost two years, I’ve been challenging myself to wear MORE of the clothing I already own, to wear what I have in new ways, and to dress each day as if I’m going to be SEEN.  I had fallen into a rut that functioned in many ways as hiding: if I didn’t TRY to look “my best,” then I couldn’t be hurt if people didn’t respond to me positively.  There’s an element of vulnerability in putting effort into our clothing each day, where our garments serve as a reflection of how we see ourselves.  Rather than allowing my self-image to be dictated by what I throw on mindlessly, I learned that setting intention and asking my clothes to SERVE MY NEEDS turned my wardrobe, both handmade and store-bought, into a TOOL rather than a hoard.

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Get Dressed To Stay Home

text image describing the author's journey to dressing better

A little over a year ago, I was inspired by a review of my own handsewn wardrobe–following months and months (and months) in a sewing rut–to GET DRESSED TO STAY HOME.  I have worked from home for more than a decade, and had begun to think of getting dressed as an unnecessary waste of time, something I could skip in favor of More Important (or more enjoyable) tasks.  It took a huge toll on me, y’all, in a quiet, sneaky way–breaking free from that has been work, but it’s been JOYOUS work.  I’ve actually been cataloging the outfits I put together each day and taking photos of them, and am developing the whole series into a project I’m sharing with the League of Dressmakers, where I’m pairing sewing pattern suggestions and video guides with the four concepts I’ve developed to formalize what’s worked for me.

Given the Current Situation, where nearly the entire globe are now finding ourselves sheltering in place and unexpectedly, indefinitely staying or working from home, I want to share these ideas in a five-part series here with all of you.  These posts are about getting dressed, but they’re also about taking active steps to keep ourselves mentally well when we don’t “have to” go anywhere–and are tempted to stay in pajamas all day, every day.

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Toaster Sweater #2

This is easily the most aggressive sweater I own.

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I bought this fleece when Hancock Fabrics was shutting down (RIP, messiest fabric stores evar, but let’s be honest: in the face of social distancing we would take that messy shop with the sticky floors in a HEARTBEAT), because they were basically paying you to carry fleece away at that point.  I love All The Yellows, all the time–and this one seemed like just the right half-neon/half-borderline-green-ish color that I could work it into my wardrobe.

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Christmas Pajamas: the Ultimate in Deadline Sewing

I wasn’t going to sew Christmas pajamas two years ago.  Until my children heard about it.  They were actually speechless.  Aghast.  Appalled.  Couldn’t IMAGINE a world in which they didn’t launch into bed on Christmas Eve wearing new handmade pajamas.

We work hard not to go (too far) overboard for Christmas, to the point that we only get our children two gifts each.  We stuff their stockings full, though, and I personally love the tradition of wrapping new pajamas and opening them on Christmas Eve.  It makes for a nice preview, and for snappier Christmas-morning photographs.  Side benefit: since we have grown even more fond recently of giving gifts that are experiences over items–our children have gotten tickets for family trips the past three years, and will again this December 25–they can take their jammies with them when we travel, and have a little home comfort while we’re away.

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Solve Crime in the Ancient Pyramids in 2020!

Quilting club heads to Egypt

When I dreamed up the Murder Mystery Quilt, I never imagined even for an instant all the places it would take me.  Around the world, it turns out.

The short origin story of the Murder Mystery Quilt, when I tell it at cocktail parties to people who don’t sew and who think quilts are something they dig out of Gramma’s closet or see in a museum display, goes more or less like this: there’s a product in the world of quilting where portions of the quilt are sewn without ever seeing the finished design, like making a puzzle without the box top lid, but the word “mystery” always made me think, “If I’m going to make a quilt and not know how it’ll turn out, I should at least be solving a MURDER mystery!”  And thus I developed the idea of sewing a quilt to solve a crime.

Murder Mystery Quilt 2020

 

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Recursive Sewing

I have a clear memory of a single conversation that changed the way I see the world.  The initial memory is of feeling frustrated and defensive.  Then the scene skips to a moment when my husband, before he was my husband, says something that grabs my ears and won’t let go, something that makes my brain skitter just a bit, causes me to hold my breath and experience a sensation that I can only describe as twisting a kaleidoscope and suddenly seeing that what was chaos and jumbled color as geometric shape and order.  Pieces falling into place and making things clear.  A sensation of peace and conviction and the absurd obviousness of a solution I’d struggled to find landing squarely in my lap.

That revelation was an important moment for me, both because of the content of that particular conversation specifically, but also because the insight I had that day is an experience that every human shares: sometimes, it takes seeing things from a new angle, which can take only a breath or a syllable, to change how we view the entire world.

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There is an on-going conversation about how social media reflects the highlight reels of our lives.  And it is easy to experience envy or even shame–that sense of worthlessness when compared to others–because what we are sewing isn’t as excellent as what is being showcased on someone else’s grid.  The woman in Austin you look up to busts out the perfect summer top in under an hour.  The dressmaker in Los Angeles parades past in flawlessly fitted handmade jeans.  We beat ourselves up because we don’t think we measure up.

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