The Clothing is the Destination

I’m sitting here with a lot of work to do, some pretty tight deadlines, and I’m drinking coffee and reading The Last Psychiatrist blog posts–each one promising myself this will be the last, then prolonging it by reading all the comments. Why? Because I’m all caught up on Regretsy posts. (Alas.)

As I try to analyze why am I so [lazy, unwise, etc.], I stop that train(wreck) in its tracks. As I know I am not a lazy person (and who/what IS a lazy person, anyway? How did they get like that? Is it inherent, learned, or something else?), what is it that is causing me to behave in the manner of a lazy person? What are the descriptions that spring to mind first as I try to MAKE myself do tasks involved in a business that started out as a HOBBY, as something I ENJOY? How much of this is an unconscious association of “work” as “unenjoyable,” as drudgery, as a means to an end?

The mental mix tape that gets new recordings with every job defines what it means to work, reprinted here with the tune taken out and bulletpoints for your convenience:

*Everything I get is last minute with tight deadlines; everyone wants their stuff back fast

*Everyone wants a piece of me at the same time and all the work piles up fast and sudden

*I’m not getting paid enough for this

*It’s hard

*It’s unrewarding

*I’m under appreciated

*If I were making __________, then I’d be excited about it


As far as freelance sewing goes, yes to the first two. No one thinks to buy a winter coat in the summer. They think of it in the winter. They think of it when it gets cold, and then they want one right away. No one thinks about the seam that’s ripping out in their favorite bathing suit when it’s freezing outside; they remember it 3 days before their Caribbean cruise. It takes a strange and orderly customer to think of having new garments started a season or more before they are necessary. And yes everyone thinks of what they want, after they needed to already have it, at the same time that everyone else thought of it. You can witness this phenomenon in every retail establishment by standing near the checkstands for a couple rounds. It’s a little uncannier when not in a physical establishment where you can cite visual cues or what-have-you, but it is the way things work. And a lot of those people, even if they don’t have any rush for their needs, still don’t want to have to wait in line, especially not an invisible one. As Vonnegut would point out, so it goes.

This is the nature of the beast, you don’t like it, find a desk job where you have one boss. Or perhaps stop being the exact same as that situation yourself–did I start D.’s winter coat before winter? No. Is it even done now? No. I’ve started working on the pattern, but apparently in the Asian coat-pattern books I got, XL, while it looks numerically to be big enough for him, isn’t even big enough for me. So it’s January and D.’s coat might be finished for next winter. Ah, well, the shoemaker’s children and the clothing designer’s significant other . . .

Notice the obligatory XXL sizing; this would still not be big enough. (Don’t tell D.)


You can’t change the external factors, like when clients call, or even what item you are working on. Yippee, another hem on something. The ONLY thing you can change is your perception. Why are hems unexciting? Why is menswear less rewarding than womenswear? Why did I decide this? Did I really get into sewing for the glamor?

Sewing is a behind-the-scenes thing and NOBODY knows how long it takes to do most things, even someone else who sews as a hobby. Like writing, it’s somewhat glamor-ish to people who like the idea of somebody writing or sewing or painting. Or sitting drunk at a typewriter in the kind of physical and mental condition that could cause a grown man to fall asleep on a radiator and injure himself. That’s only glamorous when you hear about it, but not when you’re there.

When you’re there, it’s a lot of work, and when I say I’m busy, I really am busy–even if I’m clipping my toenails to try to distance myself from how busy I am: gross national columnist,  which is just another fabulous part of the glamor.

The idea that there is an intrinsic difference between pant hems and wedding dresses is the kind of college idealist, English Department garbage up with which I will not put. It’s the thing that caused the Professional Writing Department I graduated in to flee to the Journalism School to escape the English major’s crap about popular writing being intrinsically bad writing, or at least not as important as the rubbish he’s got at home soaking in its own Importance, Relevance, and Human Condition Defining juices in an anonymous filing cabinet. #end rant

The thing that is the SAME about pant hems and wedding dresses is how the people wearing the finished product feel about them.

In this Wal-Mart market of clothes too cheap to be made by non-starving Americans, the clients I get clothes-wise are generally people who can’t just go to a chain store and pick up something that either fits perfectly or is at least close enough. Aside from the very wealthy, whom I’ve seen get garments adjusted down to the quarter inch, almost pathologically, the people who go to the trouble and expense of getting their pants hemmed really need them to be hemmed. So when a pair of pants finally Fits, the person putting them on can be really freaking excited. Especially if it was some kind of specialty hem that not every alterations place can/will do. Then they’re pretty much as excited as if they got their wedding dress back fitting perfectly. I’ve even got one client who texts me periodically to tell me how happy he is in the clothes I fitted–my favorite text was when he was at an art show and “the best art here is these pants!”

Everything I’ve got on line right now will make someone happy or help someone in some way or solve some problem. It’s easy to look at the down side (these panels could have been done with a different material, this deadline didn’t need to be this short, the change in this garment from Before to After is too undramatic to bother with a before picture even if I remember to take one before cutting into it), and it’s easy to blame myself for being the kind of person who does that. But the problem started with changes in definitions that were too subtle. Do you remember when you stopped playing at washing clothes or doing the dishes and these activities became chores? Or when pushing around that popping-ball toy lawnmower turned into “Oh God, I have to mow the lawn again this weekend”? Why is “work” inherently un-fun? What makes it “work”? What is your unconscious definition of “work”? Like an infant who witnesses two adults fighting about something stupid and is told “Aww, that’s love” and who grows up to pick stupid fights with everybody it cares about, the older you get, the more definitions of what “work” is you add to your invisible mental dictionary.

Work is drudgery; work is underpaid; work is under appreciated; work is ___negative adjective___. Am I under appreciated? Hell no! One of my regular employers, when I let him know I hadn’t gone in to a different job that day, as originally planned, asked if I had called in because I was too awesome to work. And I could go on. And I’m not mentioning this to increase my accolades via internet audience approval, but to point out that the absurdity of the little voice in my head that believes it is under appreciated isn’t just wrong because I am a special snowflake, but because in objective reality I am rarely under appreciated.

Yet this is an internal definition of work. The problem is the gap between the work done and the appreciation; it’s also the greater importance put on external vs. internal appreciation. The working part is unappreciated, the finished item is appreciated; I’m being appreciated not for what I did, but the end product–not the doing, but the thing, which makes the doing hard, and makes the doer frustrated at the thing for getting all the accolades.

You can’t change the temporal gap between work toward a goal and the completion of the goal. Zen anecdotes about the climb up the mountain being more important than the destination (try telling that to a customer) aside, the question is how to make your personal, internal perception of the journey AND the destination of equivalent value. How to make the DEFINITION of the journey/ work something other than what it has currently, accidentally become.

The idea that the journey is as important or more so than the destination and for the same reasons is the kind of thing you see reposted on people’s facebook pages on those blurry photos of pretty girls or mountains or pretty girls on mountains, with some sort of trite text printed in a script-y font on top of it.

No it’s not! I didn’t go to Wisconsin to fly on a plane or to have trouble at the rental car desk; I went there to see the House on the Rock. Everything in the middle was nice and all, but the destination was the thing. Otherwise I could fly on a plane to an airport, look around the gift shop, and hop back on a plane home. Don’t tell me the journey is the POINT. There’s something more to it than that; that’s the kind of new-agey rubbish that confuses people who want to be new-agey but can’t quite put their finger on why it’s not working.

The point of making clothes is to have clothes at the end of the project; it is not to sew. Again, try telling the opposite to a customer. The existential trouble is the part where you have to sew to get to the clothes, a thing which is sometimes/always/never fun, and how to change the definition of THAT to like THAT.

The trick is to change the definition of “sewing” as “work” and/or (probably and) to change the definition of work from all the things you’ve accumulated over time at all your crap jobs working as a waitress/ store clerk/ assistant to a dragon lady/ cashier/ office monkey/ etc.

Why was washing toy dishes fun when you were a kid?


Marsupial Pants

While reading an article on what brands of jeans have been the most popular this year, Apple Bottoms came up. Their claim is that they accentuate curves instead of trying to hide them. Since I’ve spent the past decade-plus buying pants to fit over my hips and finding the American-sizing assumption to be that someone with big hips must also be big-waisted, and I wind up sagging a little by default, I checked them out. Only to find an entire page full of perfectly normal-sized women, most of whom do NOT have big hips, or really much to speak of in hips at all. The one little nod to curviness is a couple of pictures of larger sizes, looking really unflattering. What is that pouch below the fly in the front? She could fit a roll of tube socks in there, or a couple.

I’m not going to be all size-ist and say large women should never wear tight clothes, and I’ve seen skinny girls shoved into too-small garments that make them look like sausage links; it’s all about the cut and about getting the right size that determines whether tight can work.

I’ve seen well-designed jeans on larger women, and I’ve seen a nice pair of pants make it look like someone’s lost weight without her having to hold her breath to get into them. These pants just make her butt look lower, like someone dropped a bag of sand down the back and it hasn’t slid down all the way because the skinny legs are too tight.

The muffin-top in the front implies she’s not as proud of her curves as they would have you believe and she’s attempting to wear a size smaller so she doesn’t have to admit to herself she’s a 24 or whatever the heck number is now “fat” in the random-number women’s-sizing system that puts my size range anywhere from 7 to 12.

I showed this picture to D., who said the pants looked like they were designed for the upper body and she just stuck her legs through the sleeves. Like skants, but with the neck-hole / crotch sewn shut.

Then here’s a back-shot of a skinny girl with curves only in the back. Laterally, she’s s flat as a brick. Then these pants take what is possibly a nice butt and flatten/lengthen/drop it. You can see from the right side that adds nothing that any shapeliness is strictly the willpower and determination of her butt to overcome these pants. Then the mom-pants waistband appears to be actually bigger than the hips.

Here is an example of *actual* big hips:

I want to know where this woman found tight pants with a small waist or if she got them tailored. (Or if that strategic blur says this is photoshopped–or else the effect of a gravitational pull.) Image gotten from here, though the wording of the text implies it’s some sort of spam site.

The top pair is significantly less curve-flattering than Lane Bryant. I suspect the “adds curves” notion of this brand of pants is just that any woman who is willing to wear an “I have curves” apple on her ass is probably making a statement, as described in this quote by The Last Psychiatrist: “The brunette who dyes her hair blonde isn’t  trying to look Swedish, the point is to make sure everyone knows it’s artificial because it’s a signal: I don’t want blonde hair, I want to be a <<blonde>>.”

These don’t have to be actually nice butts because they’re <<apple bottoms>>. (Though, seriously, have you really looked at the shape of an apple? Maybe there IS truth in advertising . . . )


New Speed-Janome!

I do quite a bit of sewing for Larry, which involves carting my machine or machines upstairs and downstairs, one shoe off and one sock on. So he called me up this morning and asked what machine I recommended, saying he wanted to keep one at his studio for me to use.

After calling around about options and immediate availability, we picked this baby from Thomas Sewing Center in Mesquite:

This is how ridiculously fabulous this machine is: it has a pre-tension thingy that prevents your thread from twisting BEFORE it gets to the tension knob. It also has the increasingly popular scissors button that takes the top thread to the bottom and snips them both in the back. It winds a bobbin WHILE YOU’RE SEWING.

The foot pressure dial on the far left, above the sewing instruction diagram allows you to switch quickly back and forth between normal with a lot of control to 0, which allows you to swing the fabric around willy nilly–I was doing loop-de-loops on a fabric-batting-fabric sandwich without bunching anything up. Also, there’s a knee-press foot-lifter.

My machine has to be dismantled and cleaned with rubbing alcohol and scrubbing at least twice per velcro job, and the needles have to be peeled twice per strip of velcro due to the velcro’s glue backing. The machines I’ve been using have front-facing needles and top-loading bobbins. This one has a side-facing needle and a side-loading bobbin, so we’re expecting that to handle the tough job better than my poor Princess and Idiot machines I’ve been switching out when one gets tired (not their official product names).

This machine is the mule love-child of an industrial machine and a home machine: fast and relatively lightweight. It does straight-stitch only, at high speeds–notice the speed dial has a picture of a turtle, a tired rabbit, and a flying rabbit, as opposed to the usual home-sewing range sweeping from dead turtle to mourning rabbit.

This machine will make the Chinese New Year panels as close to a breeze as a project this awkward can get. And I’m looking forward to finding out how it handles getting coated in glue.


Christmas Pants

The project: pants like the black ones I made to be like the blue ones that died. You may remember the project from last September: black pants


The previous pants used some pockets from the pair I copied and provided a delightful color contrast. This time I went to a thrift store and wandered through the men’s section in search of unusual pockets. I found a pair of khaki shorts with orange accents in a little boy’s size, so only the side pockets were usable; the back pockets were too small for normal people hands to fit inside.

I had been putting off starting on these pants because I couldn’t find any good fabrics. I ordered a sample online of some peachskin fabric, but it was the same flowy stuff as the black pants and I had really wanted to do something different. In my head, I saw myself using that . . . umm, I’m not sure what to call it . . . that slightly crinkly, stiff fabric they use on sporty pants; almost like it’s been treated for waterproof or something, but it probably hasn’t? Anyway, that stuff. I thought maybe if I kept checking back, some might turn up in the warehouse districts that get random fabrics and even sometimes have relatively cheap men’s suiting and what-have-you.

I went to the warehouse fabric district again a couple weeks ago and found a scrap of brown peachskin that was stiffer and less floopy, closer to the original pants and more sporty than the black fabric I had used last time. Since I knew the end user liked fun colors, I asked the shopkeep for anything besides brown; no luck, but they had more of the brown on a roll.

So I texted the client to ask if brown was okay. She wrote back that she had lost my number, and had been trying to figure out how to get ahold of me to let me know she’d like the Christmas pair to be brown. Actually, the verb up there, “wrote,” doesn’t really describe her message back, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

All my Constant Readers (as Stephen King would say) and my Alert Readers (as Dave Barry would say) might recognize nearly the same 2 photos from the black pair’s back pockets:

Above, I stuck my hand in the shot to demonstrate that the top layer (edged in orange thread) is pinned below the lower layer; the darts on both layers have already been put in.

Below: stitched, snipped, flipped right side out:

I used the cuffs of the khaki shorts for the contrast on the pockets, and a cotton fabric in complementary colors for the pouch:

Finished pocket from the inside:

From the outside:

After top-stitching the butt-protector, reinforcing layer, or whatever the heck that panel is called:

I attached the smaller facing (under my hand) onto the front pocket pouch first, then sewed it to the pants themselves before pinning the back part of the facing to make sure it laid right.

Here’s a cool thing about the front facing on these pockets. I’m showing this out of order to try to be clearer–this is the seam that I am holding in my hand above:

When they are lying flat and the top of the seam is lined up perfectly, the bottom of the curves are different by that much, though the total length of each is the same. This helps the pockets curve in a little when the pants are worn, rather than pooch out a little. It’s one of those things where sewing it not flat creates the illusion of it being flat. Kind of like how sewing square pillows to be square when they’re flat can give them rabbit ears, but sewing them with rounded corners produces a square pillow when it’s stuffed.

(Pillows spotted via Regretsy.)


Back to the pants: pockets pinned flat–you can see the nonflatness at the bottom part, but it’ll look flat when it’s wrapped around a hip.

I finished off the side seams then placed the side pocket reinforcement rectangle. On one side, I also integrated an extra pocket from the khaki shorts. It needed a cut-out similar to the back pockets.

Orange zippers are no longer available locally, at least as far as I could find. Luckily, I had one on hand. Some people will look at my stash of materials as borderline hoarding, but how would they explain this zipper, installed right before Christmas and with no time to order online?

Starting the fly:

Finishing the fly:

I can put in an invisible zipper pretty much blindfolded, I never do welt zippers if I can help it, and I can count on my fingers–probably one hand–the number of fly-zippers I’ve installed. This one was practically easy–I must be getting smarter.

Partly in keeping with the original original-pants’ design that included large labels, as well as due to my desire to keep the inside of the waist as a “waistband” instead of having to use geometry to create a facing (I hid all the ease behind the label), I had some fun creating a specialty label:

No stamp would have turned up on the fabric as it was, so I soaked a scrap in bleach, then stamped it. I put a border of the regular fabric around the edge.



Window Panels

The Chinese New Year fabric is too thin to be glued to the styrene in the usual way, so this time I’m going to be sewing the panels into cases, rather than just sewing the velcro. Luckily, I’ve already done the velcro part, so it won’t be as last-minute time-consuming as it might have been.

We started out trying to avoid this, because it always looks better glued than sewn. I made a sample of it sewn and the gluer tried every possible technique to keep glue spots from seeping through and leaving marks.

I marked one side of the fabric to stitch on the lines, as they have to be very tight and very exact:

Stitch it, turn the fabric, press the edges and corners flat, insert the styrene with the seam allowances behind the sheet, secure the velcro straight with double-sided tape, fold the top over, pull it tight, and sew along the edge:

This part is really awkward because the machine can’t grip something this big and stiff in the same way it grips regular fabric. When discussing this project in advance, I swore up and down that stitching through styrene would break the needle. It doesn’t, for no apparent reason that I can figure, as styrene is plastic and relatively thick. So for the rest of these panels, I’ll be able to stitch intentionally on the styrene itself, which will secure the fabric a little more easily. I’ll also be working in a larger studio space so I can keep them flatter.

An added difficulty is this: you have to iron it perfectly and not wrinkle it before inserting the styrene. It cannot be ironed afterward without adding steam-related wrinkles and warps. The first sample I made wound up with these, and I had to start over.


Racing Stripes

A client brought me a number of items that were just a little too small. A couple of them, I added what I like to mentally refer to as “racing stripes” up the side, though calling them that out loud to clients generally gets a negative response.

For both the jeans and the skirt, I added a contrasting grey stripe; for the skirt, I serged horizontal stripes to give it a textural difference and add some interest. I made one long piece that was more than wide enough for both sides, then cut it into strips:

And the results:

Dying Linen Pants: Do Not Try This at Home

A client gave me a pair of pale green linen pants that had an unremovable spot on them and asked me to dye them black. In an attempt to get them as black as possible, rather than greyish, I used 3 packages of dye in as small an amount of water as possible. Since linen can shrink, I couldn’t boil the water or the pants themselves; I used sink-warm water. To keep the pants from floating, leaving some of the fabric outside of the dye and potentially making it splotchy, I weighted it down with heavy things–a large lid and a full kettle:

Usually, permanently and seriously setting dye into fabric involves washing in hot water and running it through the dryer. I settled for washing it in cold water, but still pulled it out of the washer about 4 inches smaller.

Here it is with the lining hanging out and a Barbie-sized waistband:

If you had asked me a week ago if clothes could be stretched out larger, I would have recalled the time in highschool when a friend of mine got sent to the office for a “paper stretcher,” essentially an academic snipe hunt, and I would have laughed at you. But while holding a client’s apparently ruined garment, I went ahead on a google search for fabric stretching.

Turns out it IS possible. Most sites recommend soaking it in conditioner beforehand, which I did, though I’m not sure that’s entirely necessary. I used the piano harp to weight it on one end and some paint cans with handweights on top on the legs. I put the paint cans in plastic bags to protect the pants from whatever might be on the cans.

The pants mostly shrank up, but not so much side-to-side. The reason the waist looked like it shrank so much is because the grain of the waistband was horizontally the same as the vertical grain of the pants themselves. I had to pull off the waistband to effectively stretch the pants, and when I tried to stretch the band, the ease clipped into it ripped. So I gave the band up for lost and just stretched the belt loops.

It pulled back to the original length, but it became increasingly obvious that the dye had not set.

I didn’t wear gloves while messing around with the stretching and the dye kept coming off all over my hands. So I washed the pants in a gentle cycle of cold water with vinegar. I stitched the belt loops into a baggie made of scrap fabric so they could also be washed in the vinegar without getting lost.

The pants came out 2 inches shorter again, and the dye was still coming off to the touch. I washed them again, including more soaking time, in a larger quantity of vinegar, and they shrank back down by a total of 4 inches.

I stretched them again and made a new waistband. The client tried them on and was pleased with the color and happy with the length. They’re still a little bit too narrow in the hips,  so I do need to attempt to stretch them out more horizontally, though it’s only by about an inch at the most.