Saturday, February 19, 2011

Handmade? Or Handmade Fashion? Or Just Fashion?

I don't know. I'm trying to figure out where I belong with handmade clothing. In one large sense, this is fashion. But it is not trendy fashion, by a long shot. It's just the stuff I make and enjoy, and my plus-size ladies seem to like it. But this clothing is also handmade, and therefore, can it have a presence in the "handcrafted community"? The answer? Sort of.

Without a doubt, the most telling evidence of whether my garments are "handmade" or "fashion" will be where and how they sell. In the past, I had reps sell my work, and it was therefore most definitely considered "fashion". However, I think it is actually becoming very "fashionable" to have your product be called "handmade" there's a twist on the whole thing!

Personally, I really don't mind one way or the other. My only question is: where do I feature and show my work the most? A handmade forum, or a fashion one? I'm becoming increasingly convinced that I should go into both areas, and let it work itself out. I think there are a lot of plus-sized women who have never considered the handmade marketplaces as anywhere they could buy clothing for them. It's easy to see why; there just isn't much on eBay and ArtFire for plus-sized women. Sure, you'll find T-shirts up the wazoo, but interesting and unique clothing? Not so much.

Bottom line for me is that I envision a garment, cut the fabric strategically, and sit at an industrial sewing machine and make it all come together. That is certainly "handmade", and it's wearable. A similar thing happens when I dye fiber, yarn, and fabric, and spin yarn. It's all "handmade"...but isn't it also destined to be "fashion"?

I think so!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The End of Another V-Day

I am a perennial hater of Valentine's Day. When I was young, in school, no one ever sent me those carnations that would get passed out by the popular girls. I never really had a boyfriend in high school. I just didn't seem to be the right "type" of girl, and I couldn't figure out why! I always assumed it was because I wasn't skinny, and of course, I hated myself and my body because of that. Even when I was a junior in high school, and I weighed 145 pounds and was almost 5'10" tall, I still could only see the "fat girl" inside me.

College came...few dates to even speak of. Since I went to design school, most of the guys there were gay, and so that was that. I did meet a sweet man toward the end of school, and eventually got engaged. I broke it off, though. He was FAR too tied to his mother's apron strings. Talk about unappealing!

While I was married, Valentine's Day was always the day before my husband got paid. That meant that anything for the holiday that was going to happen would happen for 50% off. I didn't mind. I suppose one of the mistakes we made was not celebrating these kinds of days, and living and breathing only for the children.

Tonight I am here, alone, sipping a glass of wine, and looking back over all these past V-days. I'm not sad because I am "single". I am "taken" but not in the way I'd like to be. My heart's been given away, and now I sit and wait to see what will happen to it. It's not a position I would have wished for, but I know that time can determine things for us when we can't make up our minds. Maybe this will happen to him.

Valentine's Day doesn't fail to inspire me, though. Red IS my favorite color, and it's everywhere right now, of course. Red colors passion, anger, and hot-headedness, but it also fuels ambition and success. I'll go on that!

Back to my wine now...or is it...WHINE??

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Expanding on a Good Thing

Yes, I am aware it's been four months. You should know what a terrible blogger I am by now, so I'll spare you!

In the last couple months, I've realized that I really MISS creating fashion clothing for plus sized women. It was something I did very very well a few years ago. Life got in the way of the business, as usually happens. Autism entered my life, I left my husband, and found myself in not a very good spot. It's been five years, and I've been on so many creative "adventures" that I've lost count. But still, deep in my soul, there lives a desire to create clothing for the women I understand best: those that wear a size 16 and above.

It was a very tough decision to make; deciding to go back to the fashion business. But I know it's where I belong, and I'm excited to do it again! I got acquainted with my beloved "Bernie" again, and had him tuned up.
I have Bernie situated so I can see out the window, and have a speaker system for my music. I can't do anything without music. Many of my scissors are missing from the glory days of my business, but I located the company from where I ordered them , and will pick them up again. Wolff Industries is simply the best place to get scissors.

All of the hundreds of pounds of fabric I had I hung onto. I couldn't bear to let any of it go. My set-up isn't like I had before, so I can't have it all in here, but I have my rayons here and will be working through them. My cottons are in storage, but I can easily get to them.

Next on the list of must-buys is a gravity feed iron. I've been through two of them, and it seems the price has come down on them. I'll head back to my trusty favorite site, All-Brands, for the iron. I got my machine from them, and have never been sorry.

My cutting table has been with me since I was in high school, and sadly, it is so broken that it is nearly unusable. Tomorrow's job will be picking up a new one, then the agony of putting it together!

Now, you might be wondering: will I stop dyeing fiber and spinning and designing yarns? Heck no! While I have yet to figure out how I will operate two seemingly different product lines, I still intend to try it. So, hanging in my workroom, alongside the spinning wheel, there will be gorgeous clothing...
I'd love to say that I'll be offering one-of-a-kind knitwear for plus sizes, but the work involved would be too much. Patterns are the next best thing, and I am perfecting my pattern-writing skills to be able to offer them. It is no small task writing a pattern; so when you get one for free, please appreciate it!

So, I am now surrounded by wool AND fabric, plus gorgeous pieces of Japanese kimono silks, Bali batik art panels, and Indian saris too numerous to count. They will become jackets, tunics, pant sets, and dresses. My Etsy and ArtFire shops will get all the one-of-a-kind pieces, and a website will be in the works for pieces that will be made to order. Then there will be advertising and promoting.

Sooo much to do! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Doing it Doowicky's Way

I came across a post the other day from Doowicky, another wool-lover like me. She had some new ideas for scouring fleece, which, in itself, is usually kind of a pain in the butt to do. We all fall in love with the sticky, greasy mass of fiber in those clear plastic bags at fiber shows. But once we get those bags home, our work areas start to smell like BARNS. Time to clean the gunk out of those fleeces!

I got this gorgeous fleece from the Michigan Fiber Fest, and it was the first-place winner for colored wool. It was 6.2 pounds of wonderful-ness, from a sheep named "Lambchop", raised byAnnette Johnston of Ira, MI. Lambchop is 3/8 Rambouillet, 1/4 Suffolk, 1/4Lincoln, and 1/8 Romney. That's quite a mix! But what a fantastic fleece! The most beautiful I've ever had thus far. This sheep is amazing. He's over NINE years old, and still is producing a prize-winning fleece:
Lambchop is a mostly-grey fleece with beautiful locks. You could literally lay it out like a blanket, all lock structure intact.
So, I washed the second batch of the fleece using Doowicky's method. I thought I'd lay out the process here. First, into the sink full of hot water and detergent. My water heater is set for 130 degrees, so that gives you an idea of what temperature to shoot for. I use a lavender-scented soap with no dyes, and I use about the same as I would use for a load of dirty clothes.
I gently pushed the fleece down into the hot water, and I didn't get too far with my hand. I used my trusty big spoon, and I very gently worked it down into the soap and water until it was completely submerged. I left it there for about half an hour, and used my spoon to carefully poke around a tiny bit to loosen dirt (NO swishing, swirling or agitation!):
This first wash water was DIRTY, as you can well imagine. It's absolute poop-water. There's no other way to describe it. Next up, I gently scooped up the fiber en masse (and this is NOT separate the fibers here!) into the colander, and let the poop-water drain away.
Next, I pressed out the water, and I left it in the colander to do this. Doowicky says to place the fiber on the floor of the sink and press using a cutting board. I just used my hand or my big spoon to press. Notice I did not say "squeeze"...NO SQUEEZE! Just PRESS!
Into the rinse the fiber goes. Do NOT let water run directly on fiber. Either remove it from the sink completely, or keep it away from running water:
Just let the fiber sit in the rinse water...I poke at mine a little bit with the spoon to help loosen things up a bit. But no agitation.
You'll want to rinse the wool at least one more time, more likely two, the same way. If the wool is really dirty, repeat both the wash (with soap) and rinses. Once this is done, here's the most important part: take the fiber en masse once again, and put it into a bucket or dishpan and let it cool completely. Do not play with the fiber or tease it in any way. Just let it cool, all the way. Here's my first batch of fiber, sitting in the bucket to cool:
Yes, I's a thing of pure beauty, right? : ) Anyway, just keep washing your fleece and adding it to the bucket to cool. Once it is COMPLETELY cool, you will spin it out in the washer. Make sure your washer does NOTHING but spin on it's spin cycle! Some washers will blow more water on your precious fleece, while spinning. You do NOT want that (unless you want to risk felting). ONLY spin:
After it has spun, carefully remove from the washer and lay it out somehow to dry for a couple days. Gently spread it out; while it's wet, you don't want to be teasing and pulling apart locks. Save that business for carding. Best way to dry the wool is elevated on a screen, but since I don't have that, I lay mine out on a sheet on the floor. then I try hard to keep the cat out of it (sigh...the cat was NOT my idea). The lock structure is almost totally intact, and just a tiny bit of matting on the cut edges. Now that it's completely dry, I am impressed at how easily the fibers drift apart when I tease them. Carding is going to be a breeze:
Lovely and gorgeous, yes? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. Here is what my daughter thinks about all this dirty-fleece-business (her expression caught right after taking a look at the first wash-water in the sink):
Oh child, if you only could understand!

Happy fleece-washing! I'll be following up with dyeing, carding, and color-blending of this very special, beautiful fleece for a very special, amazing project for an amazing man......!

Monday, August 30, 2010

On Spindling...

Every once in a great while, I will pull out my spindle. The reasons for doing so usually have to do with the mood I'm in, the fiber I am spinning, or the state of my spinning wheel. Right now, my wheel is still loaded up with the grey corriedale fleece that I had processed from two years ago. (Got that? Two YEARS ago. I'm kinda....TIRED of it!)

So, when I picked up two gorgeous balls of swirled alpaca roving from Wooly Knob Fiber Mill, at the Michigan Fiber Festival, it was destined to be spun on my spindle for two reasons. Firstly, there's the problem of my wheel being occupied with grey corriedale. Secondly, I wanted to spin it extra-fine, which always is easier on the spindle, at least for me.
The roving is a beautiful swirl of green, blue and black, and it spins up into a lovely forest-marl.

My spindles aren't fancy at all. I don't feel the compulsion toward owning a mitt-full of fancy ones, nor do I feel unfulfilled without a fan-tabulous Golding spindle. I own two very simple Ashford spindles; one for spinning, and one for plying. Total cost for them both was probably only $25, but it hardly matters. What matters is the simplicity of using them; the connection to centuries of spinning this way, before wheels existed, before anyone knew of any other way to create a simple thread. Of course, in some parts of the world, the spindle is still the only way to spin, although we know "better" here in the Western world.

But in my case, is it really "better"? My wheel, as much as I love it, has only one ratio. It's a 5:1 wheel, which means that fine, thin yarns are a labor of love to create. On the spindle, this same fine, thin yarn is much thinner, and much finer, and much higher quality. Is it as fast as the wheel? Of course not! But that's only because I am no prize-spinner! Watch someone from the Andes spindle-spin, and you will see how fast and beautiful it can be. It's like watching poetry, really.

I try not to think of how my arms ache when I spin on the spindle. I wonder how people through the ages spun so easily, quickly, and perfectly for hours and hours. I think of how every single thread of every piece of cloth was spun this way, and here I complain of my arm and shoulder aching after a short while! Perhaps it is just the western mind; always wanting things to be easier, quicker, and without effort. We no longer have the primitive society around us where there is no other way of doing the spinning task at hand. In our world, spinning yarn really isn't even a task any longer, unless we want it to be.
So, the grey corriedale will have to wait a bit longer to get finished. I'm almost through this 4-ounce ball of alpaca roving, and I have another to go. On the wheel, it would've already long been spun up. But it would not have been spun as fine. It would not have as much character, and I would not be as intimately familiar with every strand of fiber. Drafting out each short length, I enjoy releasing my fingers to let the twist enter the loose strands. Like a little flurry of energy, the alpaca fibers swirl around the air and mesh together. I marvel at the way the twist becomes the "glue" that holds everything together. Such a simple thing, but so magical!

The whole process is a practice of patience, concentration, and timing, and yet it remains all the while absolutely relaxing. First, there is the slight pulling of the yarn to release some of the twist into the drafting zone. Next comes the first, gentle roll of the spindle against my thigh; not too much spin here, as there still isn't enough yarn made to hold onto. Draft and pull out with the new twist created, carefully holding the new yarn; catch the spindle again and roll it hard against my thigh. Higher and higher my arms go, keeping up with the twist, carefully pulling out the fiber as thin as I want it to be. Must keep watch on the spindle and make sure it doesn't stop spinning! Before I know it, a long length of fine, thin alpaca yarn is pulled out, and the spindle is nearly to the floor. Evening out the last bit of yarn I can reach to create, my right hand grabs up the spindle again, and the new yarn gets wrapped on the spindle shaft.

Before too long, the spindle begins to get too heavy with yarn; the fiber drafts unevenly, and PLUNK! My spindle drops to the floor. The yarn, broken now, has to be pieced together again, which is no problem. It's only fiber, and twist will mesh it and "glue" it again. Magic!

Over and over again, these same movements, same artful port de bras of my arms, like a dance of elegance that creates something. No wonder spindle-spinning still remains with us. No matter the fancy wheels we have, the machines, the industrial equipment. Without the spindle, we simply cannot dance in quite the same way with our fiber. The spindle is the dance, and the fiber is it's partner. A perfect match.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Yes, summer is on it's way out, and here I am just now writing about it! You all know me. I'm a slow blogger. One of these fine days I will write with some sort of regularity. (Dream on, suckers!)

My summer began in....Barcelona! Yes, I went to Spain with my George, my sweet professor, and it was the best week of my life. I did tell him so; he said that was "cool!", and of course, his ambiguity amazes me. No matter; I had an incredible time, and I wish I could do it all over again. The Mediterranean sea was magical for me. Just to touch those waters where so much history has happened, so much myth and magic; it was nothing short of a dream come true for me. I thought of the legends of Mary Magdalene drifting across those waters to the shores of the south of France, just over the mountains from where I lay on the beach.

My favorite place in the city was the Barcelona Cathedral. I was able to see it twice; once during a walking tour we took, and again on my own, while George was working. I've never seen anything so beautiful! It was so peaceful and serene, and of course, I thought of all the history there, and tried to imagine the people through the centuries who had visited there. I thought of the intent of the clergy to astound people with the power of God through this amazing architecture.

The beaches were amazing, of course:

And they were also topless! George said he fully intended on "going topless"...what a goof! But I did...and it was a very liberating thing. In Europe, these things just aren't a big deal. Why we Americans have to be so uptight is beyond me. George and I took a dip after our bike tour:

Now that we are home, I find myself going back to Barcelona in my mind. I loved the city, the food, and everything about it. I don't think I could live there, but I could most certainly enjoy living in Europe. I have George to thank for showing me so many new things in my life, and Europe is a gift I never thought I would ever see...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kitchener is a Bitchener...

Well, happily I knitted along on my sock. And the inevitable loomed in front of it all: KITCHENER stitch. So named after the smart-ass British general who decided that his soldiers needed a smoother finish on the toes of their socks. Well, excuse me, but it wasn't him knitting those socks. Thanks for the "great idea" dude.

I just can't do it. Period. At least tonight I can't do it. Children coming down into the room and throwing stupid questions and petty arguments at me didn't help a bit. After reading numerous tutorials on how to do this technique, not one of them missed the important point of not being interrupted while attempting! So, with that in mind, I decided to wait until the kids were in bed. Because if I don't, they're going to die.

The first tutorial I used had the yarn coming off the wrong end compared to where mine was located. That made things quite confusing. I also was using one of those tapestry needles with the bend in the end. Whose idea was this? Every single time I've used these needles, it's been annoying! I don't know what that bend is good for, other then to aim in the opposite direction than where I am headed. Stupid.

So now I'm chugging a Minute Maid Lite Lemonade, waiting for the kids to go "poof" into the night. Then I'll attempt this bitchener Kitchener stitch again. Don't worry, my attitude will be stellar. Promise.