Me Made May 2018 Reflection

This was my first year participating in Me Made May, so I thought I would reflect on my experience and what I learned through the month. My goal for the month was, “I, Caroline, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May '18. I endeavor to take a photo every time I wear a me-made garment, to buy no new fabric, and to finish my Kalle shirt in May 2018.” 

I can say that I succeeded in photographing all of my me-made outfits… which is the only part of my goal I succeeded in (we’ll get there). I realized when trying to put together outfits in May that I have maybe one day a week where I wear garments I have made. Part of this is my penchant for sewing pretty dresses that are not alway practical and part of this is my slow journey of learning how to modify patterns for my size. That being said, I had a few great outfits this month. 

This is the Maeve shrug, which is one of the most wearable garments I have ever knit. It has a lot of ease/wiggle room, especially in the arm area, which is where I struggle most. I made the same sweater in a dark blue for my mom a few years ago as well . The t-shirt is a self-drafted pattern based on a RTW piece made with Hello Ollie by Bonnie Christine for Art Gallery Fabric. This t-shirt is another go-to of mine; it’s the perfect balance of stylish and comfortable.

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This is a “split skirt” (read: culottes) from a 90’s McCall’s pattern made with a Korean rayon. It’s the perfect summer garment; light, breezy, and has pockets. Wearing these culottes brings back hot summer days of going to the county fair and eating soft serve ice cream.

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I wore the same blue sweater here in a more casual look and Clarissa is wearing a Merchant and Mills Tee that I made. The fabric is Amalfi by Rifle Paper Co. and I did a very slight full bust adjustment. The fabric is absolutely gorgeous and I have now made two other versions for Clarissa.

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This is a knitted poncho that I started with the intention of using up some leftover indigo dyed yarn. After a year of knitting, I finally finished it and… I never wear it. There is something about the shape or color or fit that doesn’t work with my everyday wardrobe. Perhaps I will try and style it in fall and winter, when the wool will be more functional.

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This is one of my favorite outfits of the month. This is a self-drafted wrap top made with the same Korean rayon as the culottes. I paired it here with a flow-y tunic that my best friend shibori dyed with indigo. I haven’t worn the two together before but I absolutely love the color combination and the silhouette it creates. 

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Here is where I started to fail my personal goals. I was feeling stuck with my Kalle shirt and I was at Stonemountain and Daughter and this pink striped ribbed knit was on sale and one thing led to another. This is a self-drafted pattern based on a RTW piece and I started and finished it in one afternoon. This will definitely be a go-to warm weather piece for me. In fact I wore it two days in a row after I made it and then again when I was tabling at the LA Zine Fest.

So overall, I didn’t end up finishing my Kalle shirt and I did buy fabric. But I’m not beating myself up over this “failure.” It was my first time participating in Me Made May and after all, it is just an excuse to wear your me-made garments and have a go at challenging yourself. 

Dress Like Your Grandma Sewing Challenge

I was scrolling through Instagram mid-March and saw that Tanya Hughes was putting on her Dress Like Your Grandma sewing challenge for a second year. I was thrilled because last year I found myself admiring everyone’s submissions and fantasizing about the outfits I would love to recreate. So of course I signed up for this year’s challenge and started searching for my inspiration.

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My grandma, Charlotte, is the avid sewist herself and made many, many outfits for herself, her children, and her grandchildren. I actually did a study of her fashion through the years for her 80th birthday and ended up painting her various outfits. So after looking through all my pictures of her, I decided on this picture of her and my grandfather from 1984. I wanted to make something fairly simple to make and that would translate well to my personal style.

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I ended up purchasing this pattern for the project from Vogue (pattern number V9265) and this blue tear drop fabric from Robert Kaufman. I thought the scoop neck and puff sleeves mirrored my grandma’s dress nicely. I believe my grandma used a very small blue floral quilting cotton for her dress and the blue and white tear drops I picked keeps the color palette similar, but adds a bit of my personal flare.

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I modified the pattern to ditch the skirt lining, add side-seam pockets, and shorten the sleeve slightly. There were a few issues with the pattern (the skirt panels ended up being ~4 inches too small for the bodice and the neckline gaped quite a bit) but I had a lot of fun with the princess seams and puffy sleeves and the cotton was a pleasure to sew.

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Overall, it was a very fun challenge to find inspiration in an era-specific outfit and sewing this dress gave me an appreciation for the generations of sewists that have proceeded me. I think I was dipping my toes in the water of sewing vintage-style clothing, so next year I might challenge myself to go back further in time (maybe I’ll try to find a picture of my great grandma).

Finished Jumper Dress

A few weeks ago I found this amazing fabric at Stone Mountain and Daughter and I knew I had to do something with it. The fabric is a Japanese linen/cotton blend and has the most amazing repeat print that utilizes the full width of the fabric. The mint ocean and pink sand are balanced with the grey runway and pops of orange pedestrians and the negative space/white of the fabric is masterfully designed.

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I was inspired by Liz Hansen (@stitchplease on Instagram), who used the same fabric to make an overall-style jumper dress that perfectly showcases this print.

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I modified Kwik Sew’s K4138 to make my jumper dress. I wanted to create a silhouette that I know looks good on me, so I opted for a waistband and gathered skirt. I had justenough fabric with 2 yards, which I pre-washed.

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In hindsight I wish I added a pocket to the left side; the right side has a zipper closure. I also need to shorted the straps, which is a bit of a pain (not to mention I ran out of the contrast thread I used for top-stitching), but overall (ha ha) I am really pleased with the finished jumper dress!

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Quilting Part 3: Process & Play

Quilt making is a process-based activity, and it is this feature that draws most modern quilters to the craft. Even when quilting is done out of necessity, as in Amish communities, it is used as a form of creative expression for the makers, as well as a satisfying form of labor. The two aspects of the process are the process as physicality in making and process as imbuing value into an object.

This is how to make a quilt. First, choose a patchwork pattern: log cabin, pinwheel, honeycomb, cathedral, star of Bethlehem, farmer’s wife, jelly roll, modern geometric, and the list goes on.  There are even variations on the idea of not conforming to a particular patchwork design:  crazy quilts and kaleidoscope quilts fit into this category. Next, pick your fabric: consider pattern, color, composition, scale, texture. Next, cut your fabric: this is usually done with a rotary cutter and ruler to enhance precision and uniformity. Cut your hundreds of precisely measured shapes, making sure to measure your angles. The degree of planning, math, and precision can be deceptive, and this step is critical to the success of the finished quilt. Next, sew the patchwork: this involves sewing your hundreds of fabric shapes into the precise pattern you chose.  It may be done by hand or by machine, and tends to be a very time consuming activity.  At this stage, the backing fabric of the quilt may also be pieced together with a secondary or secret design, even though it will not be visible when the quilt is in use. Next, quilt your quilt top, batting, and backing together: by machine or hand, stitching all three layers in a pleasing manner (make sure to consider how the quilting will look with your pattern). Lastly, bind the edges: finish the edges of the quilt with a strip of matching or coordinating fabric.

 Completely Cauchy, 2014, “In Wedowee…” finished and in progress.

Completely Cauchy, 2014, “In Wedowee…” finished and in progress.

The many steps of the process allow for exploration, learning, and creative problem solving, while the repetitive actions of cutting and sewing allow complete immersion in the activity. Some describe this immersion as “flow.” Naturalist Diane Ackerman describes it as “deep play,” where you become so involved in an activity that the outside world ceases to exist and you enter a new world with new rules. This immersion is evident in quilts such as In Wedowee by the quilter who goes by her blog handle, Completely Cauchy. In a blog post about the process , the quilter says, “I built out a log cabin using no rulers, no rotary cutters…just scissors and stitching by hand. Things wobbled and I embraced the wiggle. It was primal. And it shut the world out for a little while.” This complete focus on motion and material creates a connection between the making and the maker’s body, creating physicality in process.

The second aspect to process is the emotional value imbued in the finished quilt through the process of making it. Many quilters today have no interest in keeping the quilts they create; the draw is in the making, so they give away their quilts to friends and family. Because of the quilt’s connection to the maker, and now to the receiver, the quilt is an embodiment of their relationship. It is no longer just an object, but a connection between people achieved through the process of making. In The Saturated World, Beverly Gordon explores this concept in relation to women’s domestic amusements of the 19th and 20thcenturies. She writes, “Objects are in a sense brought into the body boundary and used as an extension of self. Everyday, useful things are embraced and valued … Process, in effect, is more important than product: even when something concrete is constructed it is the creative experience that matters more than what has been created.”

In this blog series, we have explored three important aspects of quilt making that serve as the foundation for the principles and process of a domestic aesthetic:  quilting as a safe space for women to express themselves, quilting as a way to explore and develop a point of view within the domestic aesthetic, and quilting as an artistic process.  All of this takes place nearly completely outside the patriarchal foreground culture of modern society.  I believe that quilts are not trying to cater to foreground values and that the creative benefits to makers and collectors of quilts outweigh any negative criticism that quilting is the province of Midwestern grandmothers. Quilting reflects diverse experiences, styles, and expressions of a within a domestic aesthetic, and the process through which quilts are created brings together like-minded crafters through the design, fabrication, and use of quilts. But these aspects do not belong to only quilting. Many crafts value process, functional objects, and community. Any of these activities, no matter how trivial, can empower people to exert control over their lives and to express themselves creatively.

Resources for this post:

Images from Completely Cauchy.

Deep Play, Diane Ackerman, 1999.

“In Wedowee…” Completely Cauchy, July 21, 2014.

The Saturated World: Aesthetic Meaning, Intimate Objects, Women’s Lives, 1890-1940, Beverly Gordon, 2006.

For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange, Genevieve Vaughan, 1997.

Quilting Part 2: Cultivation & Domestic Aesthetic

In this post let us briefly step away from the world of quilts and into the broader world of everyday objects and aesthetic cultivation, which Beverley Gordon described in The Saturated World.  What does it mean to develop an aesthetic point of view in the arena of home arts?  We take pleasure in creating a pleasing environment in domestic spaces through selection and use of objects used in the home.  But beyond function, the process takes on a form of self-expression and imbues meaning in the objects we surround ourselves with. Everyday objects are especially suited to cultivating a specific aesthetic point of view because we keep them close. They become invisible through their utility and ubiquity and they become an extension of ourselves through their closeness to our lives and bodies. Thus, the collection and cultivation of bed linens, lamps, artworks, and trinkets that all fit into an individual’s style can bring joy and satisfaction into their lives. In this mindset, nothing is more satisfying than finding the perfect pale pink vase to play off the teal in your lampshade’s floral pattern.

 Charline Batalle, 2014, Montreal home.

Charline Batalle, 2014, Montreal home.

An excellent example of creating this domestic aesthetic is in artist Charline Bataille’s Montreal living space. What strikes me first about the space is her incredible use of color. The pale pink of the walls plays off the cushions on the sofa, the plush carpet, and the small bookcase in the corner. The green of the sofa brings out the subtler green of the plants, the other green nick-knacks throughout the room. Cultivation is present in the objects placed around the room. The ceramic cat, macramé plant hanger, the Bambi poster, and the sundry cups holding pens all speak to each other. Bataille chose to put them in her living space because she made an emotional or stylistic connection to the objects. This connection to objects is what allows their cultivation to become an extension of the cultivator.

Of course, the act of cultivation has historically been linked to gender. In our society, the academic, high-art, male notion of beauty is based in the intellect. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant assert that the determination of beauty is objective, or at the very least a rational, thought-based judgment. In order for the pursuit of beauty to be worthy, it must take place outside the physical body. Cultivation of a domestic aesthetic sits in opposition to this notion because home arts are sensory-based and center on bringing pleasure through a collected experience of creating and using an object.  Rather than selecting art to display on the wall or a pedestal for intellectual contemplation, domestic arts are focused on collecting objects that will surround the user.  In the home, these objects are interacted with daily and constantly touched and used.  They tend to be everyday objects that cannot be separated from the activities of home life. It is clear how this cultivated, domestic aesthetic is coded as feminine. Where the male notion of beauty is ephemeral, sublime, and takes place in the mind, the female notion of beauty is domestic, sensual, and takes place in the physical world.  Broadly, a cultivated aesthetic point of view is firmly held in the feminine sphere.  It is informed by the work involved in creating and using the object, which becomes the fundamental principle of the aesthetic point of view. The craft of quilting is one example of the ways domestic aesthetics are created.

Cultivation of aesthetics is relevant to quilts in several aspects. The functional, everyday quality of the quilt and its closeness to the body when in use makes it an ideal candidate for cultivation. Edward Hall describes how we act and interact with objects in relation to their distance to our bodies. These “distance zones” range from “public” to “intimate” and the closer we allow something, there is more potential for emotional attachment or meaning. When used as a blanket, the quilt falls into the “intimate” zone, where this emotional connection happens.  A quilt very literally brings warmth to a person and becomes associated with the memories and feelings of the warmth it imparts. Quilts can function as an embodiment of the maker and allows both the maker and the user to create meaning in the quilt. Its proximity to the body also allows for a deeper emotional connection. In addition to appreciating objects aesthetically, we invest emotional value in them, allowing them to bring us joy. Quilts are given emotional value both when they are created and when they are used, exhibiting the potential to bring joy through both cultivation and making.

Contemporary quilts exhibit a diverse and near-infinite number of quilting styles that are influenced by everything from traditional quilts to minimalist painting. From modern quilts that consist of solid colors or minimal prints in geometric shapes to art quilts that use imagery and hand painted-cloth, there may be few visual similarities, but they do share a strong sense of style that is rooted in the domestic aesthetic handed down through hundreds of years of quilting.  We can trace the style and diversity of contemporary quilts back hundreds of years to the methods, expressions, and milieu of our ancestors.

 Amanda Jennings, 2014, quilt in progress and “Maple Os.”

Amanda Jennings, 2014, quilt in progress and “Maple Os.”

The planning and preparation for quilting is quite similar to the act of collecting and cultivating objects in a certain style.  The hunting down of fabrics and careful consideration of color, pattern, and composition all create the same satisfaction, meaning, and purpose that the searching out of the perfect teapot instills in a teapot collector. For example, Figure 3 illustrates the planning process of quilter and blogger Amanda Jennings. Jennings considers many factors, including fabrics, colors and piecing patterns in relation to her theme of autumn and Thanksgiving for this quilt. The prints on the fabrics are incredibly important in some quilts, and some fabrics are highly coveted. The choice of fabric can determine the mood of the quilt. Is it a serious, modern autumnal quilt with solid color or geometric print fabric, or is it a Thanksgiving baby quilt, with playful turkey illustrated fabric? Jennings no doubt wants this quilt to fit into her quilting style and her larger body of work, which consists of quirky prints with simple or traditional piecing and a limited color palette, such as her quilt, Maple Os (Figure 4). To reflect her style in this quilt she has chosen a mix of whimsical fabrics. It is through these choices that we start to see the cultivation of materials and aesthetic that happens when creating a quilt.

 Resources for this post:

Images from Charline Bataille and Amanda Jennings.

The Saturated World: Aesthetic Meaning, Intimate Objects, Women’s Lives, 1890-1940, Beverly Gordon, 2006.

Kant’s Aesthetics and Teleology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Hannah Ginsborg, 2013.

The Hidden Dimension, Edward T. Hall, 1966.

Snaps from Hawai’i

 

Today I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite pictures from my recent trip to Hawai’i. I had a fabulous time in both Honolulu and Hilo. If you want to know where a specific picture is from shoot me a comment and I’ll let you know.

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