Tag Archives: clothing designer

Recycling: Why I can never throw anything away

Almost anything can be repurposed, renovated, re-invented, renewed.  With that realization I am going to have an even harder time clearing out my closet.

As an example: Sometime in the 90’s one of the shirts I made when I needed a nice wardrobe for work on the road  was an oversized military-style shirt made with purple silk charmeuse.  At the time I had discovered  ‘designer ease’ which fit right in with the extra large silhouettes of the time.  Ease is the amount of room built in to a garment.  Wearing ease is big enough to be comfortable, not too tight but designer ease can be anywhere from four to ten inches, huge in other words.

Why the big shirt?  Because it was the style, dude.  And I thought I was bigger than I am.  Who knew?

Why the big shirt? Because it was the style, dude. And I thought I was bigger than I am. Who knew?

I wore this shirt a lot in its initial form, long sleeves with cuffs and long enough to belt with skirts.  finally the cuffs were starting to wear and I was wearing shirts shorter so I cut off the extra length and made short sleeves and wore the shirt that way for maybe ten years.

I KNOW, who keeps shirts that long?  Well I do, for one.  If you take good care of your clothes they really last.  I always wash my silk garments by hand with a silk wash.  I like Forever New.  The clue is in the name, folks. The only real change over the years is that parts of the shirt more exposed to the sun have faded which just makes the garment more interesting.

So, in recent years I haven’t worn it much because it was still too big for my current look, wide through the torso, but the fabric is still good so I had a flash: why not turn it into a vest?  I’d been wanting a new purple vest to replace a finally worn out raw silk reversible vest that I finally gave up on.  I have a purple vest that reverses to olive green quilted silk but it’s more a fall/winter vest so My thought was; single layer for summer.

The shortened version before conversion.

The shortened version before conversion.

I opened the side seams and cut off the sleeves.  Then I removed the pockets and flaps because they were too high for the vest.  I also let out the inverted pleat in the back. then I used my pattern to cut the fronts keeping the front placket and buttons.  When I removed the pockets and flaps the holes from the original stitching were visible so I cut bias strips of purple silk chiffon and some tie material in a painted silk jacquard.  I added extra pieces for style then I repositioned the pockets and used the epaulettes instead of the flaps. A small scrap of another purple silk charmeuse became bias binding for the edges and the widest parts of the sleeves became the belts in the back.  Now I have a useable and fun layer for summer work.

Detail of the vest front.  Cobalt blue glass buttons

Detail of the vest front. Cobalt blue glass buttons

I like vests because they tie an outfit together, help to disguise my asymmetrical form, and take the place of a jacket when it is too warm to wear a jacket.  Of course this one will push the envelope for the business look but I go for the quirky, bohemian boss-lady image: firm but fun.

Vest back.  The vertical strips cover the previous stitching holes

Vest back. The vertical strips cover the previous stitching holes

Renovating a down coat

Finished!  Even though it's not really cold I'm determined to wear my renovated down coat.

Finished! Even though it’s not really cold I’m determined to wear my renovated down coat.

Twelve years ago I bought an ankle-length, black, Calvin Klein down coat at my favourite store, Winners.  It was a good price, $100, but it was a bit of a splurge since I didn’t really need it most of the time where I lived on Vancouver Island.  I got it mostly because I was doing a winter rail trip from Toronto to Vancouver and I thought it would be a perfect, light-weight coat for those times when you want to get off the train in the middle of the night on some lonesome, frozen prairie siding,  just to experience the cold.   A few years later I moved to Maine and it became my coat of choice for the morning walks with the dog in winter.

Drool stains the lower part of the original waterproof/breathable fashion fabric.

Drool stains the lower part of the original waterproof/breathable fashion fabric.

Fast forward to this year.  The coat still keeps me warm and is like walking around in a big sleeping bag but the outer fashion fabric was worn at the cuffs and

 no amount of washing seemed to be able to remove the dog drool on the sleeves where I get playfully grabbed or from the waist down where leaning occurs.  

I had two choices: replace the coat with a new one or make a new fashion fabric outer shell.  llbean makes a good substitution, a calf-length coat for $200.  I would recommend to a client that option since renovation is labour-intensive.  A new coat would have a removable hood, not a feature I really require, but would not have the extra tall collar that makes my coat perfect for wind-chill times.  I can pull it right up over my nose.  With a hat I’m toasty-warm.  And my coat is longer with zippers at the bottom of the side seams for walking ease.  I bought some dark brown polyester rain coating and started.

matching the new front placket with the old

matching the new front placket with the old

I opened both side seams from sleeve cuff to the zippers.  I have made vests from down jackets and re-covered vests as well so the optimum would have been to be able to remove the original fashion fabric, make a pattern from it and replace with the new fabric.  Alas, the fabric was sewn to the down casing making the channels so removal was not an option.  I made paper pattern pieces for fronts, centre back, side backs, side fronts and sleeves and assembled the pieces attached at the shoulders and draped on my form to see how the fit was.  I had to adjust a bit at the armhole, then I pinned the new outer shell to the coat at the collar and at all the channel stitching.

Pinning the new dark chocolate brown fabric on the partially deconstructed garment

Pinning the new dark chocolate brown fabric on the partially deconstructed garment

I decided to quilt the coat by hand for more control and so that I wouldn’t lose any loft with additional seaming.  I used some variegated silk thread warp ends that I got from the Sanderson Weaving Studio  on Granville Island.

The colours vary from taupe and dull purple to tan and pale green.  I started with  a sleeve, then quilted the adjacent front, then the other sleeve, it’s front and lastly the back.  I embroidered a decorative stitch around the pocket openings to strengthen that stress point.

While it was apart I replaced the walking ease zippers.  The originals never opened easily.  The main two-way separating zipper I replaced several years ago with a bigger sleeping bag-like zipper.  I also added reinforcement at the hems in the form of iridescent drapery fabric.  Hopefully that will contribute to longevity at the stress points.

Even using two thimbles my fingers are sore from all the hand sewing.  Except for the front zipper (which was basted then sewn by machine) and , the side seams, the new fabric was attached by hand for control and to maintain down loft.

Even using two thimbles my fingers are sore from all the hand sewing. Except for the front zipper (which was basted then sewn by machine) and the side seams, the new fabric was attached by hand for control and to maintain down loft.

It’s hard to tell from some of the pictures but the new improved coat is a dark chocolate brown.  The hand quilting  allows plenty of loft for the down.  I embroidered geometric lines and arrows down the front placket to obscure the places that covered the snaps.  I was going to heavily embroider around the lower zippers but decided they look fine without the extra embellishment. Besides, I was ready to be done and my fingers were sore from all the hand-sewing, even using my thimbles.

Hand pocket detaIl.  I wanted to reinforce around the pockets because there is so much wear there.

Hand pocket detaIl. I wanted to reinforce around the pockets because there is so much wear there.

Writing about this makes it all sound so easy, but making a pattern from a garment so loosely shaped is not easy.  Cutting out is always the worst part and I had a moment of wondering if I had enough fabric.  Usually I buy too much but this time I had just the right amount.  The bit of stretch in the new fabric worked well to help the new outer shell conform to the garment.  Overall I am really happy with the result.  Now if only the temperature would plummet again so I can wear my new brown down coat.  Looking good, because in my world, brown is the new black.

Styling in my renovated Calvin Klein coat.

Styling in my renovated Calvin Klein coat.

Winter Solstice

Baby Doumbek on my desk

It’s the longest night of the year and today has been dark all day.  Icy mist greeted us for the morning walk.  I won’t say early because I was out at the crack of 0930.  Murphy opted for the woods right away since he came with me yesterday to pick up my repaired snowshoes and new baby doumbek in the Farmington area and there was not a proper afternoon walk for him.

The ice sent me back inside to strap on my cleats, spiky chains on super strong rubber that go on my boots, because even the gravel driveway was a thin sheet of ice and the leaves on the trail were coated as well.  If you don’t have to go anywhere the icy mist thing is fine, but I spared a thought and a blessing for all who had to be on the road today.  Not nice on the ice.

Ann and I do our celebrating on the solstice and usually have some kind of lamb dinner.  Tonight I cooked Lamb Osso Bucco with roasted vegetables and cherry pie (a reminder that summer is only half a year away).  My  Osso Bucco is a bit more complexly spicy than any I’ve seen on the internet.  I added some whole peppercorns and hand ground a mix of cumin, coriander, cardamon and rosemary to the usual bed of onion, garlic and carrot and added a can of roma tomatoes and some merlot.  Lamb shanks yum.  And, the resulting sauce was turned into gravy with my new immersion blender (two speed, KitchenAid) that I’d been trying to get Ann to buy for herself but she bought for me instead.  Weird how that works, but cool.

So now I listen to the rain and have frankincense and myrrh on the wood stove and Early Music on the stereo.  My plan is to stay up all night and contemplate the things to do next.  I’ve cleaned downstairs and I’m organizing internally as well as externally and this is a good time to do that.  Not making resolutions so much as intentions and directions and lists…… I do love the lists.  And the long night is a lovely time to contemplate and refine the things I do.

This has become a favourite time of year for me now that I have extricated myself from the obligatory holiday dance in which so many find themselves caught.  I try to spend some time hanging with my bro before the holidays clog the world and this time I had the great idea for Ross to come here for a few days then I would drive him back to the Vineyard and spend a few days there, making a stretch week of a visit with not too much time in either place.

I picked Ross up at the bus in Portland rather than closer to here partly because I had an appointment in Portland to get my colours analyzed.  Lately I’d realized that I didn’t have the clothes for my new life (artist, designer, hypnotherapist)and I seemed to not have a clue what I looked good wearing.  That decision was a good one since I was getting ready to sew but didn’t know exactly what to make.  Turns out I’m not a winter of any kind as I had thought; either that or I’ve morphed into a Warm Autumn and discovered that I look best in the warmest of colours and 75% of my wardrobe had to go.  Luckily I’ve been a bit bi-polar with my clothes anyway so I had some browns and greens but even my fabric stash was largely the wrong palette.  Re-vamping a wardrobe is almost as good as moving and packing.  I took a huge bag of clothes to the Monroe Mall (trailer of good stuff at the dump) and have others sorted for over-dying or selling.

What I could find in my palette to wear

So on the agenda are a couple of skirts, chocolate wool jersey and olive silk, and some jersey tops , tanks and long-sleeved tees in golden brown and rust and salmon and  then a vest or two in the palette.

There’s music to listen to, music to play, fabric to play with, words to write, computer skills to hone and a small but aesthetically pleasing studio to organize.  Life is good.  My Solstice wish is that everyone feels good being themselves and has activities that engage them.  Imagine if everyone in the world was laughing at the same time.  What a great noise this planet would be making then.  I live in hope.  Peace.