Sunday, October 2, 2022

Weekend Review: The Fabric Of Civilization


The Fabric of Civilization / Virginia Postrel
NY: Basic Books, c2020
320 p.

This book is an overview of fabric and the ways in which it has shaped the development of civilization, whether that's related to trade, economics, social classes, gender relations, arts, history or another facet of life.

It reminds me of both Kassia St. Clair's The Golden Thread and Elizabeth Wayland Barber's Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times. She is taking a look at textiles across history, as the original tech, and notes that because textiles are so abundant we have "textile amnesia", forgetting their vital role in so many areas of life. She aims to change that. 

The book is broken up into thematic sections: Fiber, Thread, Cloth, Dye, Traders, Consumers & Innovators. It's mostly told in a conversational tone, with lots of illustrative anecdotes that make it a fun read. Some of the sections are a little technical/dry (especially the weaving ones) but overall it's informative and engaging reading. 

She illustrates how textiles, and the artisans who made and worked with textiles, shaped the world in many ways. I knew about binary code's source in weaving, but didn't know about the other elements of arcane mathematics that were created by weavers designing patterns. It was fascinating! There was discussion of the cloth trade across Europe and how those traders developed into some of the first banks and introduced techniques of book-keeping, also something new for me to learn. And the discussion of Italian silk manufacture and all the people involved in it -- including women as masters -- was really memorable.

I enjoyed the stories, and the commentary on textile words that are a part of our languages now. There are a few caveats about the book; it is really Europe focused, and some of the more distasteful aspects of textile history are skimmed over without much commentary -- ie: the use of slavery in the textile world, or aspects of cultural theft when looking at silk and weaving. However, it does give a wide view across many centuries of many other elements of textile history, manufacture, and its potential for the future. Recommended for anyone interested in how textiles have a core role in world history and in the tech world in many ways. It's a readable look at this topic, a great starter for further deep dives into any of the specific chapters or subjects that really speak to you. 

The author has even made a playlist to go along with this book on youtube, featuring 12 short videos on various themes from the book. Some are very short, so it's easy to view a few! 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Weekend Review: Clothes-Pegs


Clothes-Pegs / Susan Scarlett
London: Dean Street Press, 2022, c1939.
206 p.

This is a reprint of the first romance by Susan Scarlett, the pen name of well known author Noel Streatfield. She wrote a dozen romances under this name, and I was obviously drawn to this one! 

It's the story of Annabel Brown, a nice girl from a middle class English family who works as a seamstress at Bertna's, a higher end fashion house, to help with family finances. Annabel is also young, slender and lovely, which works in her favour when one of the mannequins (models) from downstairs quits, and the owner needs a quick substitution. She decides to pull Annabel from the sewing room to the front lines, so to speak, and gives her a quick training to become of one of the four models showing off new collections. 

Two of these models are catty, the other is fairly mysterious but kind to Annabel. And on one of Annabel's first turns in her new job, she sees wealthy Lord David de Bett in the audience and falls for him at first sight. Of course she also catches his eye, despite the fact that he's there with the Honourable Octavia Glaye, who isn't very honourable in real life; she is really quite awful! This scene reminds me a little of the beginning of The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz. 

A cross-class romance ensues, with ups and downs and misunderstandings, as in all good romance novels. But Annabel's goodness overcomes class lines, as well as David's obsession with the madonna/whore complex. He is the sticking point in this book for me; he's not good enough for Annabel, jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions about Annabel near the end and only relenting when he finds out the truth accidentally from someone else. It felt a little icky for a reader of today, really. Other than his character, though, this story was charming - the Brown family is the heart of it and Annabel's work as a seamstress and as a mannequin are both frothy with clothing description and the way clothes make a woman feel. Bertna's was a delight to read about and while the romance felt a little clunky, the rest of it - especially the family interactions - was enjoyable and engaging. Definitely worth a look. I found this one through my library's online collection so perhaps you will be able to as well! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Stitchalong: Purple Morning Glory

This week's progress on my Peace for Ukraine Stitchalong is getting me so close to the end! I worked on the little purple morning glory on the bottom of the design, which I really like -- the shading was tricky here but has such a wonderful effect. 

I started with the leafage, which was done differently from the other leaves in this design which I did in a batch earlier. These leaves are a bit rounder and 'juicier' so were stitched in double strand, and outlined in one strand. Then it was on to the interior stripes.

These were slightly tricky to add in, and I had to add more to the centre of the five point star shape afterward, as I hadn't brought them in closely enough together. But I really liked the colours and enjoyed figuring this element out.

After getting all the greenery done and fixing the central bits, I stitched up the little cone shaped bud and started in on the dark purple shading. It always looks odd at this stage but once you start filling it in it all comes together. 

You can see that the first layer is quite similar in tone but then it lightens up quite a bit in the middle, finishing with some white highlighting that just finishes it off beautifully.

I love the way the shapes and colours blend in this pattern, and am eager to work on the final element, the poppy. I've been leaving this one to last since there is so much delicate shading in it. I'm nervous about getting it right! Thankfully I've had some practice now with the other flowers. 

It will soon be time for some framing decisions!

Just a reminder that this project is a fundraiser for Ukraine. There is still a war going on and they need our support more than ever. You can find this pattern on the website Embroidery Art by Nat, as well as suggestions of many ways to assist Ukraine. I would personally recommend UA24 or Come Back Alive as reputable places to donate (among many others) if you would like to give money directly to Ukrainian charities.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Weekend Review: Finding Myself in Fashion


Finding Myself in Fashion / Jeanne Beker
TO: Penguin, c2011
230 p.

Canadian readers will recognize this author immediately! Jeanne Beker is an icon in the Canadian fashion scene, as the long-time host of FashionTelevision among many other roles.

This memoir from a decade ago covers 40 years of her work in the tv world -- and this is an interesting mix, because it's about fashion but really more about fashion from the perspective of a journalist than someone on the inside of design house. It sheds another light on this world. 

Jeanne was always energetic and ambitious, and she chronicles her youthful character and escapades that led to her work in theatre (she's a trained mime!), radio, and then eventually tv. She moved into fashion journalism after working in the music field at MTV for a while, and that gritty energy helped her make FashionTelevision into a more interesting show than a simple model host might have. Plus she had all sorts of interesting connections from her earlier work to bring into their show. 

I really enjoyed reading about the work angle of this book -- it was fascinating to see her career trajectory, and how she also lost her job due to ageism -- still happening in the tv world for sure! But she found other fashion focused work to move to. She shared stories of meeting fashion greats like Karl Lagerfeld or Alexander McQueen, and shared how her down-to-earth persistence got her access and built relationships. The story of how she was sent to interview Karl early on, while hugely pregnant, was quite entertaining -- and she got an original Chanel out of it! 

The book also talks a lot about her personal romantic relationships, from the breakdown of her marriage to the many dates and relationships she had after that. I wasn't as interested in this element of the book at all, but these stories do round out the picture of her life and how her work affected all parts of it. 

If you want a look at the fashion world from another angle, and you also fondly remember watching FT and Jeanne Beker, this might interest you too. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

TNT + Blue & Yellow

This week I whipped up another of my favourite tops, from my most used TNT pattern, Kwik Sew 3559. I know this one fits me and it's so easy to make up now that I've made nearly a dozen of them in both top and dress views.

This came about because I was in the fabric store and my eye fell upon this very cheery blue and yellow knit print. It's so bright and fits right in to the blue and yellow sewing I've been doing over the past few months. I knew I could whip up this top and wear it almost immediately. This is a light stretchy poly knit, and there is plenty left over to make a matching Drew headband also! 

I chose to make this with mid-length sleeves so that I could wear it alone into fall, or under a jacket later on as well. Many of my jackets have 3/4 sleeves so this had to have shorter sleeves to work with them. 

Because I wanted to make this one quickly, I just turned under and stitched the neckline and the hems. After a quick press they all looked fine and I'm sure they'll last as long as this fabric does. I did notice, however, that the many times I've used this pattern has resulted in tattered pattern paper (I was using gift wrap tissue paper for tracing back then). So before I put it away this time, I think it's time for a retrace using the proper tracing paper I use now (medical paper). That way I won't be guessing and pinning rips together as I go ;) 

Have you ever worn out a favourite pattern with multiple making? If so, which one?

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Stitchalong: Pink Mallow

Today's element of the #PeaceForUkraineSAL is the pink mallow flower. It's a big bloom, and adds some shiny pinks to the mix. There are quite a few different bits to this one: from the little bud done in satin stitch to the central stamen in french knots to the 3 layer long-and-short stitch that makes up the flower itself. And then all the outlines and little details. 

But somehow this one didn't feel like it took that long to me. I really enjoyed the repetitive nature of the stitching that makes up the flower. Like always, when you're at the first layer of stitching it doesn't look like much. But as you add in the colours and the petals fill up it starts to look really great. 

I probably could have extended the medium pink a bit further out into the petals, but I am happy with how this turned out. I like the mix of colours and think that the little details like the central cream and green streaks around the stamen add so much. The pale pink split stitch outline on the petals really makes it pop as well. I think it has a sense of a cupped flower with those details. 

I've really been following along with the pattern and not deviating much, and I enjoy the design and all the thoughtfulness put into the smallest bits to make them just so. All of the shading really makes the design, to my eye. Among the traceable patterns in the instructions there is also one with directional guide lines drawn in, and I've been using that one for this week's and last week's work in particular. To make the petal edges look distinct, it's useful to change the direction of your stitches, and seeing them sketched out in the pattern is so helpful. It saves time when someone else has already thought about and worked out the best placement for the effect you want! 

This flower is really lovely and I'm very impressed with the finished look. I wasn't fully sure I liked the pinks when I started but I love the finished bloom. Only two more flowers and then I will be done this project. But there's no limit on the support we can give to Ukraine. Victory to Ukraine!

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Weekend Review: Behind the Seams


I first encountered Esme Young via the Great British Sewing Bee, and had a vague idea that she was a fashion person brought on to the show. I feel some affinity with her as a fellow short person with a similar hairstyle, too ;) 

So when I saw this title I was very interested, and fortunately a friend gave me a copy! I really enjoyed reading this relaxed memoir. It has stories about her life from young girl to present day, but it's not just a chronological progression. It covers various times in more detail; the highlights are her years running Swanky Modes, a design house/storefront with 3 friends -- they were one of the first to use Lycra as a fashion fabric, not just for workout gear -- as well as her work with Central St Martins as a pattern cutter instructor. And of course, there are the years of the Great British Sewing Bee! 

The style is quite relaxed and fun; if you are familiar with her from the Sewing Bee, you'll recognize her 'voice' as it is the same in her writing. She has some great anecdotes from her time in the fashionable crowd in London, especially in the years of Swanky Modes - like meeting David Bowie, or even the small, homely details of how she built relationships with the children of her business partners. I found this different from other fashion memoirs in that she had a different relationship to fashion -- she wasn't a trained designer trying to make it in couture, she was a rather down to earth pattern maker who decided to start a boutique with three of her friends and just had fun with it.  

And sewists will enjoy reading about her pattern work and the way it shaped her career. At Central St Martins she mentored designer Ashish Gupta, and talks about their work together even now -- one of her most memorable outfits on the Bee was a sequined granny square pattern jacket made by Ashish so it all makes sense! I enjoyed this story of a woman who followed her passions and did it all on her own. She talks about work as a key element of her life, and when she was asked to be on the Bee she seemed surprised that she was invited to audition; there was no snobbiness or sense that she was assured anything due to her history or connections. And she seems happy with this new gig - as she says, she wants (and needs) to work until she dies, and this is just one more new experience for her that has brought opportunity. 

This was an enjoyable read. The tone felt very natural and entertaining, and I learned quite a bit about her life, and fashion in England over the past few decades. There's nothing too dark in it, and you get a sense of her habit of just getting on with things. Recommended for any fan of English fashion personalities or the Great British Sewing Bee!