Back to School and My First Alteration

Back to School and My First Alteration

It’s the middle of August and, according to the Internet, Back to School time.

It’s the middle of August and, according to the Internet, Back to School time.

I was such a geeky, nerdy kid that I always loved going back to school in the fall. And I always liked autumn clothing better than summer clothing. Probably because I have a soft spot for anything plaid and earth toned, both of which tend to be predominate in fall fashions.

Turn back the clock

 

I grew up in the 70s and 80s when J. C. Penney and Sears still put out their big book catalogues. I spent hours going through those, ear marking the pages that pictured the clothing items I most wanted. We never actually ordered anything from the catalogues. My mom was a big proponent of in-person shopping. Even to this day, she’s not so keen on ordering things from the internet.

Instead, on a Saturday or Sunday in August, she’d load all four of us kids into the van for a trip to Midway Mall or, if we were feeling fancier, Great Northern Mall. Midway Mall is in Elyria, Ohio and it had a Penney’s and a Sears. (I suspect it still does.) Great Northern Mall is in North Olmstead. We always thought of it as being a bit more high end the Midway Mall though I have no idea if that was true or not. Great Northern had a Penney’s and Sears as well but, it also had a Macy’s.

I would spend hours searching the racks for the garments I had identified in the catalogues, or something as similar as I could find. Then I’d try on a pile of clothing in the dressing room. I always wanted much more than Mom’s budget would allow so then I’d go through a lengthy editing process until my choices added up to what Mom was able to spend. Every year there was one thing I desperately wanted that Mom didn’t want to buy for me because she thought it was too trendy and I’d lose interest in it after a month or two.

Every year there was one thing I desperately wanted that Mom didn’t want to buy for me because she thought it was too trendy and I’d lose interest in it after a month or two.

Every year there was one thing I desperately wanted that Mom didn’t want to buy for me because she thought it was too trendy and I’d lose interest in it after a month or two.

Pin striped adventures

When I was 12 or 13 and in junior high school, I was obsessed with pin striped pants and ties. Mom agreed to buy me one pair of pin striped jeans but told me if I wanted any more, especially the wide legged, pleated pair, I’d have to figure out how to make them myself. As for the ties, she had some old ones from her father I could have.

I had no idea at this time how to go about making a pair of pants. I also didn’t happen to have any pinstriped fabric lying around.

But my Dad did, at least he had some pinstriped pants shoved deep into his closet that he never wore. The pair I liked the most were rust and brown and one Saturday afternoon when both he and my Mom were at work, I extracted them from the closet.

They were, of course, humongous on me but I knew how to sew so I figured I could alter them to fit. I was afraid that someone would come home and stop me mid alteration so I didn’t bother taking anything apart first. I just started adding pleats to the waistband, two to each side that I topstitched all the way down the legs. Then two in the back. I chopped off the hem, unintentionally rendering the pants capri-length. When I put them on, I decided the capri-length made them more fashion-y and I was going to wear them to school the next day.

Zero photo evidence

I wish there was a photo of me in these pants but there is not.

I wish there was a photo of me in these pants but there is not.

I wish there was a photo of me in these pants but there is not. I did put them on Monday morning, along with a brown turtleneck, a brown belt, and my flat brown capezio lace up shoes. The pants were bulky since I hadn’t trimmed any of the fabric out when I altered them and the legs stuck out because of the same but I thought they looked cool. When I walked into the kitchen, my Mom did a double take. She opened her mouth to say something then closed it again. I waited for her to yell at me or, worse yet, to give me the “I’m so disappointed in you” look.

But, instead, she stifled a laugh and said, “Well that explains why there was brown thread all over the sewing room. Next time, you really should trim out some of the excess fabric. That waistband wouldn’t be so bulky then.”

“You’re not mad?” I asked.

I’m not. I’ve been telling your father for years to get rid of those pants. But we should probably ask him if it’s ok.”

And there marked a three or four year period of me altering my father’s 1960s clothing to fit me. My mom was happy that I didn’t ask her to buy me as much at Penney’s and Sears. I was happy that I had clothes that were not like everyone else’s. And my dad was just happy that me repurposing his old trousers gave my mom one less thing to nag him about (my father was never very good at throwing “perfectly good” old items away).

I don’t know what the other kids at school really thought about my vintage dad wardrobe. I was already considered weird before I started donning old pinstriped pants so I suspect it just solidified that sentiment. I am, though, forever thankful to my parents for letting me develop my own little bizarre fashion style, and for encouraging my sewing habit.

Whoever would’ve thought it would turn into a lucrative career.

Gifts for Grads Who Love to Sew

Gifts for Grads Who Love to Sew

Getting through school requires determination, persistence and intelligence.

Getting through school requires determination, persistence and intelligence.

Getting through school requires determination, persistence and intelligence. Graduating seniors have earned the recognition and gifts their family bestows. We’d like to throw our hat in the ring and congratulate all graduates this year too! To help them celebrate, we have some great gift suggestions for grads who love to sew.

Sewing Totes

As your graduate heads out into the world for the next phase of their life, they’ll want to have their sewing machine and supplies with them. Sewing totes are the perfect way for them to pack up all their sewing gear safely and transport it to this next step on their life and for all the subsequent moves to come. The variety of colors, styles and sizes means you’ll find the perfect sewing tote for your graduate.

Embroidery Hoops

Not all of this year’s grads will embroider, but those who do will love getting a gift of embroidery hoops. Try getting them a variety of shapes and sizes so they’ll have plenty on hand for future projects. And know that any time they use one of the hoops you gave them, they’ll think of you while working on their embroidery project. Those warm memories will work their way into the project, making it that much more special.

Sewing Furniture

Many new graduates begin by moving into a place of their own – with or without roommates. Help them get set up and make their place comfortable with sewing furniture. Whether they’ll have a separate sewing room or a small space in the corner of a shared apartment, the right sewing furniture will help them feel more comfortable and settle into their new living arrangements.

Garment Care

With luck, the graduate in your life has a job lined up. Whether they do or not, they’ll need to look their professional best on the on the job hunt and in the workplace. Garment care items will help them do just that. They work well on both store-bought and handmade items, so your graduate who loves to sew may wind up sharing these gifts with their roommates and coworkers.

Graduates who love to sew may also appreciate gift certificates to fabric stores or to our website. What will you buy your grad this year?

Carpet Magic from Egypt

Carpet Magic from Egypt

Some of the beautiful silk & cotton rugs can take up to 14 to 16 months to make.

Some of the beautiful silk & cotton rugs can take up to 14 to 16 months to make.

I visited a carpet making school while I was in Egypt.

The school, on Sakkara Road in Giza, was called ‘New Egypt for Oriental Carpets’. The building was a vast stone structure, wide stone steps leading up to the second floor showroom and into the main entrance on the ground floor.

Back to school

The front wood doors opened into a vast, high ceilinged, airy room. Looms of varying widths, reaching from floor to ceiling lined the walls. On two sides, children manned the looms. They were of all different ages, the youngest appearing to be around 7 –  all the way up to 16 or 18.

Each child sat a wood bench in a front a loom longer and wider than at least three or four of himself. They were all boys.

The children, along with learning how to make hand tied rugs from wool and silk and cotton, also study reading and writing. Acquiring the skill of carpet making allows them the opportunity to stay in their hometowns and earn a good wage for a trade. They can also continue their education elsewhere if they desire.

My guide and I stopped behind one of the youngest boys. He turned with a toothy grin to wave at me, then turned back to his loom. The speed and dexterity of his fingers as he tied the long strands of wool into knots was mesmerizing.

The oldest group of carpet makers at the school were no longer pupils but artists. They didn’t work from a preconceived mapped out design but from pictures in their own heads.

The youngest pupils work on the simpler designs made predominately of wool. They have long sheets of paper that show the colors required to complete a specific design – kind of like the directions that come with any rug latch-hook kit you can buy at a craft store. But much more complicated and a lot more extensive.

Snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper

Another young man of about 13 years of age was working on a rug made of cotton and silk.

“Slow down,” said my guide, “Slow down so she can see.”

He dutifully slowed his flying fingers. He worked across the loom width-wise, tying strands of silk to a sturdy cotton thread already inserted in the loom. When he finished a row, he used a wired brush to push the knotted strand down tight against its neighbor.

He demonstrated the trimming process that happens at the completion of a rug, using heavy scissors to trim the fuzz like you do to an old sweater when it’s balled and pilled up.

On the backside of the rug, I could see the long threads left where he changed colors of silk. After he’d woven in all the strands, he would go back and cut and tie all the ends so that the back of the rug looked as beautiful and clean as the front.

The student becomes the master

The oldest group of carpet makers at the school were no longer pupils but artists. They didn’t work from a preconceived mapped out design but from pictures in their own heads. They used smaller looms they could stand up at, manipulating the contraption up and down with a lever by their feet, tying and weaving the yarns with their hands.

Some of the rugs can take up to 14 to 16 months to make – truly astounding in this world of mass, quick consumerism. All of the students and artists I encountered at the school seemed to have a genuine pride for what they were doing, and a patience I suspect is increasingly rare in the instant gratification, selfie-taking, googling, internet shopping world of many western civilizations.

Works of art

As soon as I laid eyes on you, I knew that you'd be mine.

As soon as I laid eyes on you, I knew that you’d be mine.

The second floor of the school was the showroom filled with all kinds of stunning rugs. Drinking a complimentary cup of tea, I wandered amongst the treasures for a good part of an hour (or maybe two). I finally decided on two carpets I wanted to purchase.

But, since I was in Egypt, the actual buying of things involved a thirty-minute bargaining session. I pretended I hadn’t already decided which rugs I liked the best and asked to see some more similar to my initial selection. I remained undecided for a significant amount of time, especially once price came into question, hemming and hawing and murmuring and looking around.

After settling on a cotton and silk rug, I then asked about the tapestries. I’d spotted the one I wanted quite some time ago. It was one of the artist done ones with yellow and orange flowers, swans, and blue sky and water with pink water lilies. After some more back and forth, we finally agreed upon a price for both the pieces I wanted.

The cherry on top

My freebie tapestry. A nice touch.

My freebie tapestry. A nice touch.

Then, in true Egyptian fashion, the salesman offered me one more tapestry I could choose from a pile as a gift. I suspect this pile consisted of the practice tapestries done by the younger students but they were all alluring in their own right and I choose a long narrow hanging of yellow with camel silhouettes.

I left the school quite happy with my purchases and the opportunity to have seen the young carpet makers at work – and to contribute to the Egyptian economy and the school.

Now, back at home in New York City, my Egyptian carpets have been happily integrated into my home carrying with them the legacy and craftsmanship of centuries.

Skip Hop Children's Backpack Hack

Skip Hop Children’s Backpack Hack

Have you seen these adorable little children’s backpacks that look like animals? They’re made by Skip Hop and retail for around $20. The only problem with them is that, like many children’s backpacks, they don’t come with a chest clip. Kids’ shoulders are tiny and their frames are narrow. This means they usually can’t keep backpack straps on when there is any weight added to their bags. For the most part I see Skip Hop backpacks slung over a parent’s shoulder, carrying the bag for their children.

Have you seen these adorable little children’s backpacks that look like animals?

Have you seen these adorable little children’s backpacks that look like animals?

I decided to make my own chest clips for these puppies and for my friends who have the bags too. The result is a backpack that children can truly wear on their own.

A backpack that children can truly wear on their own.

A backpack that children can truly wear on their own.

To make your own, you’ll need to unthread the backpack straps from the base of the bag.

To make your own, you’ll need to unthread the backpack straps from the base of the bag.

To make your own, you’ll need to unthread the backpack straps from the base of the bag.

Once you’ve unthreaded the straps, you can sew a webbing piece for the right and the left strap that holds each end of your clasp. I used 1″ webbing and 1″ clasps. I got all of my supplies from StrapWorks.com.

I used 1" webbing & 1" clasps.

I used 1″ webbing & 1″ clasps.

I sewed a small loop of 3/8″ black elastic on the end of the webbing so I could roll up the extra webbing and tuck it neatly into the loop. These are examples of clips I made for friends.

These are examples of clips I made for friends.

These are examples of clips I made for friends.

If your child is really little, they may not be able to manage the clasp on their own.

If your child is really little, they may not be able to manage the clasp on their own.

If your child is really little, they may not be able to manage the clasp on their own.

If you give them enough time to work at it though, they’ll eventually get it. It gives them a great sense of independence and freedom.

 

And really, how adorable is this bag with the added chest clip?

And really, how adorable is this bag with the added chest clip?

And really, how adorable is this bag with the added chest clip?

What type of sewing hacks have you done to children’s products in your life?

What type of sewing hacks have you done to children’s products in your life?

What type of sewing hacks have you done to children’s products in your life?

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.
Magic Makers and Dreamers of Dreams

Magic Makers and Dreamers of Dreams

As the tailor in the costume department on a major network television show, I often am asked to do minor sewing repairs/favors for people in other departments. I mostly don’t mind, especially if the person who is actually in need of the favor comes to ask me in person. It’s usually small things like sewing on a button or repairing a seam that has split open. If I’m not too busy and the repair will take five to ten minutes, I’ll often go ahead and do it while they wait.

If the favor-seeker is a woman, they inevitably say something like, “I always wanted to learn how to sew,” or “My mom tried to teach me but I was never interested,” or “I wish I knew how to sew.”

You’re never too old to learn

I always want to ask why they didn’t, or why don’t they now and then. Sometimes, if I think about it too much, I become a bit sad as, once again, I realize that sewing really kind of is a dying art. Along with shop and industrial arts classes, sewing certainly isn’t taught anymore in most school systems. Many people view ‘maker’ type skills as not as prestigious or “smart” as careers in finance or marketing. There’s quite a bit of research on the subject and, also, apparently a “Maker Movement”. It seems maybe people are starting to realize how important and necessary building and making skills are and how much the world really does still need true craftspeople.

I’m fascinated by anyone who has practiced and honed their skills to the point of being able to create something beautiful and functional with just their hands. When it comes to making things out of fabric or wood or metal or whatever, the true magic is in watching the thing emerge from beneath your fingers.

The importance of guidance

Jorge, who was the man who taught me how to drape, always used to say, “Just cut away all the parts that aren’t a 1930s dress,” (or whatever it was I was endeavoring to make). I suppose it’s true that not everyone has the ability to see a 1930s dress in a pile of fabric: that’s what makes some drapers and pattern makers artists. But if you do have that ability, or the ability to see a three-dimensional object and know what it would look like as a two-dimensional pattern than you owe to yourself to develop that gift. Because it’s a rare thing indeed. Or if you know a young person who has expressed interest in sewing and making things, teach them and encourage them.

Sewing and patternmaking are incredible skills to have and you can make a very lucrative career out of them. When I met Christy Rilling years ago, she was working out of her tiny East Village apartment. Now, she has a full studio and a roster of talented tailors working for her. And she tailors Michelle Obama’s clothing.

Use your hands and make something

I ride my bike everywhere in the city, over all sorts of potholes and debris.

I ride my bike everywhere in the city, over all sorts of potholes and debris.

I wish more young people were interested in pursuing careers in things like furniture building, masonry, tailoring, and clock & watch repair though I do think that our schools systems are partially to blame for the lack of “interest”. The world is always in need of beautiful & unique things and the individuals who can make them. By beauty, I mean anything that is lovingly & expertly crafted – from a simple wood chair to an intricate mechanical pocket watch, to a bias cut dress that hugs the body it was made for just right to a hand built bicycle wheel.

Have you ever watched someone build a bicycle wheel? It’s kind of amazing. I recently had one built for my bike. When the wheel was done and on my bike, I was struck suddenly by the immense importance of that wheel to be well built. I mean, I ride my bike everywhere in the city, over all sorts of potholes and debris and I trust, completely without thinking, that that wheel will do its intended job and not suddenly crumple under the pressure. That’s a big trust when you really think about it.

I will say here that I do have a locally owned bike shop https://www.bicycleroots.com I always go to and my friend, who owns the shop, is the only one I’d trust to build me a wheel. Which brings me to my next point.

The most valuable commodity: People

Relationships and trust are key when it comes to building a business around your skill, sewing or otherwise. When it comes to sewing and patternmaking, your goal is most always to make a person look their very best. If you do that, they will come to realize the value in having something made or altered just for them and they’ll come back and they’ll also send their friends.

So encourage some aspiring maker today if you can and tell them it’s an extremely wonderful thing if they think they might want to do this making thing for a living someday. Because there’s always room for more magic makers in this world.

All I Want for Christmas

All I Want for Christmas

There’s not all that much I need these days. Often, I feel as if I have entirely too much stuff. A year and half ago, I bought my apartment in New York City moved from Brooklyn (where I had lived for fifteen) up to Harlem.

There’s not all that much I need these days.

There’s not all that much I need these days.

I had accumulated a lot of stuff in those fifteen years and almost half of it seemed to be sewing related. This wasn’t even counting the storage space I had. Storage spaces are quite common in NYC as the apartments are notoriously small and no one ever seems to have enough room to keep all their stuff.

I literally had more fabric than I could ever, ever, use in my lifetime.

I literally had more fabric than I could ever, ever, use in my lifetime.

It’s not a problem

I decide that instead of moving all of my stuff, I was gong to get rid of some of it and I was going to empty my storage space so that everything I owned actually fit in one 800 square foot apartment.

I managed to get everything I owned to fit in one 800 square foot apartment.

I managed to get everything I owned to fit in one 800 square foot apartment.

It took some doing but I managed to accomplish this task. The biggest challenge was figuring out what to do with all the sewing related things. I really didn’t need fifteen pairs of scissors, four bins of bias tape, an entire box of rick rack and eight foot by ten foot cubicle packed to the ceiling with box after box of fabric.

Good places to donate fabric to are universities or schools with arts’ programs or assisted living homes.

Of course, I kept some things. I do, after all, possess that fabric-hoarding tendency that most tailors and pattern makers do. But I literally had more fabric than I could ever, ever, use in my lifetime – even if all I did for the next thirty years was sit in my apartment and make things. I kept the truly special stuff, the pieces that I might never be able to find (or afford) again. But the bulk of it I donated.

Giving back

Good places to donate fabric to are universities or schools with arts’ programs or assisted living homes. Even some prisons accept fabric donations.

One of the best organizations like this in New York City is Material For the Arts. They accept unneeded items from businesses and individuals, and make the donations available for free to nonprofit organizations with arts programming, government agencies and public schools. If you have a large donation (like an entire SUV full), call ahead to schedule a time to drop off.

Some other places that accept fabric donations are GrowNYC and Quilts of Valor.

The Humane Society and the ASPCA will take linens and clothing for bedding and bathing animals – especially towels.

GrowNYC used to take bags of fabric scraps of any size (that’s where most of the small scraps from Boardwalk Empire ended up) but their website now says they only want large usable pieces.

Quilts for Valor makes quilts for service members and will take most remnants as long as they are clean and free from oil stains & the like.

A few companies that offer take back and reuse options are:

  • Design Tex can provide ship-to information for recycling or reclamation of many of their upholstery, panel and drapery fabrics.
  • The Nike Reuse-A-Shoe Program recycles the rubber, foam and fabric from any brand of used sneakers into padded flooring.
  • The Patagonia Common Threads Garment Recycling Program recycles Polartec fleece, Patagonia organic t-shirts and Capilene Performance Baselayers into new Patagonia clothing.

If you’re doing some clearing out of your fabric stash this season, there are lots of opportunities to send your unwanted textiles somewhere they’ll be wanted. Please donate.

I do have to confess though, that there is one sewing related thing I’m hoping to purchase in the next year: A Juki MF 7923 Coverstitch Machine.

I figure I’ve donated just about enough fabric and other supplies to make room for a new machine.

And so the cycle continues 🙂

When the Art Bug Bites!

When the Art Bug Bites!

Once upon a time, I was an academic—almost exclusively. I didn’t do well in the athletic department, and I was a bit too flower-on-the-wall to try my hand at much else. But I rocked that academic thing! I ended up being co-valedictorian of my high school class, and going to college. I did some transferring and made some stupid decisions, but eventually graduated from a university, double-majoring in Speech Communication and History.

That’s right! Two papers!

That’s right! Two papers!

The History part of the degree had me embracing academia maybe more than I ever had. In fact, at one point, I had the stacks of books you can see in this post setting on my bed for what I remember to be a grand total of two papers. That’s right! Two papers!

The thing is though, despite the non-fiction aspect of my life, I had a bit of an art-bug-bite going on. I don’t know the exact moment the bug bit me, but there was a part of me that wanted creativity through the years I was learning about the Ancient World in undergraduate classes. Even when pursuing my BA in History and planning on an advanced education in the field, I considered working at an art museum—academia with an artsy twist. Whatever path my life took, not having art be some part of it might’ve been odd!

A mildly early art-love I remember having was writing, and I’m not entirely convinced that embracing writing wasn’t connected to academia. They tell you to write in school, after all. I mean, sure, I had art classes, but drawing in a non-grid way wasn’t necessarily my forte.

Writing fiction was a creative outlet, and even when I was writing non-fiction, I still felt like it was something I had a knack for.

Writing fiction was a creative outlet, and even when I was writing non-fiction, I still felt like it was something I had a knack for.

Writing though? That one stuck. Writing fiction was a creative outlet, and even when I was writing non-fiction, I still felt like it was something I had a knack for. So if my professional life was going to take an artsy road, having writing as the first step in that journey shouldn’t have been crazy-surprising. Actually, writing has been a driving force for a number of the more artistic career/hobby moves I’ve made in more recent times. Instead of finishing up my MA in Ancient and Classical History, I got my MA in English and Creative Writing, and I have seven published fictional works for sale on Amazon.

Books, Creative Writing education… Basically, I gave the art bug a bit of leverage, and—whether or not it’s a cause-and-effect thing—he’s showing up in more areas of my life than he did in my high school/undergraduate days! Floral arranging has been a non-career activity, and baking (which I think could be creative enough to count!) has become a very real interest of mine as well.

Floral arranging has been a non-career activity.

Floral arranging has been a non-career activity.

And the idea of quilting has gained my attention, maybe more than any artistic endeavor has besides writing. I see beautiful quilts, and I might get a little disappointed in myself that I’m incapable of making them. But it’s a goal to work toward. I’ve published books. I’ve baked pretty good Reese’s cookies. I’ve used floral arrangements I’ve made for décor. Now, I want to see how far I take this quilting thing.

Right now, I know I’m a quilter/sewer at the lower end of the spectrum, but I didn’t start off writing something that was published. And it isn’t like everything I’ve ever baked or cooked turned out fantastic either. Learning is a process, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to push myself in regards to learning a craft that is of such interest to me. Being able to explore this? It’s kind of a modern dream come true for me!

But does embracing this artistic side so much mean that I suddenly don’t care about academia? Not exactly! There’s still a part of me that misses being in an actual classroom, taking notes, and learning facts about a person or people from the past. I still think art museums can be interesting, and I still wouldn’t be too surprised if I decided to watch some kind of documentary in the future.

SewingMachinesPlus.com has instructions for projects available…

Would I be happy working in a completely academic world? I think even if I tried, I’d probably end up writing verses and baking strawberry milkshake cookies in my spare time! Why? Because when the art-bug bites, you might as well embrace its toxin!

One beauty that comes with taking on quilting and sewing to satisfy that art-bug-bite is that there’s so much information available online—for free!—that can help a person with the trade. For instance, SewingMachinesPlus.com has instructions for projects available through the site, and I’m interested in both the elephant wall hang and the tea party quilt! Other sites offer free patterns for sewing, or free classes about sewing/quilting. And, of course, there’s Youtube to browse and find some helpful videos!

All in all, although it’s a pretty daunting idea to create a complex quilt, there are bits of information available to potentially help me get there, and I can take it one sewing project at a time from here on out. I don’t need to wake up and make a museum-worthy quilt tomorrow. I can just focus on getting better one step at a time, and time will tell how far I get.

Either way, the art-bug’s effect isn’t getting out of my system any time soon, and quilting is another direction to let the toxin flow!