Thursday, July 6, 2017

an update: life, career, + a personal project


As thrilled as I am to be in Portland and pursuing clothing design instead of tech, the last 10 months have been intense! Back in September, my full-time courseload overlapped with my last week at work. Prior to quitting I hadn't taken a week off from work in nine months. I got a little breather this past December, but we were stressed about closing on our house and planning the move, and then it was back to classes until literally a couple of days before we moved in April. I knew I couldn't complete the certificate program at my school, but I wanted to learn as much as possible. So I spent all of my otherwise free time getting ahead in the patternmaking program, and it paid off: I got to the last unit of the curriculum and got help fitting my pants sloper just a couple of days before we packed up the moving truck.

The first couple of months after moving were full of contractors coming in and out of our house most weekdays, getting mostly unpacked, and trying to stay ahead of all of the tasks that come with first time homeownership and moving to a new state. And then I was in a minor but annoying car accident (everyone is fine, but our car was in the shop for three weeks), followed immediately by a couple of our best friends from California coming to visit. Through all of that, I tried to find the time to sew some things for fun. I drafted and sewed a pair of paper bag waist shorts that, in hindsight, I don't think are my style, as well as an oversized flannel button-up shirt that I will certainly wear all the time in chillier weather. I also sewed a few bras using patterns from Cloth Habit, trying to get the fit right before I try designing and drafting my own. As we transitioned into summer, it finally felt like life was settling down and I could start to find a routine again. But what does that even mean for me now?

self-drafted flannel button-up, worn with my latest Harriet bra (shown in full but not modeled here)


I'm incredibly lucky that Tim's income combined with our lower cost of living here in Portland means that there isn't immediate financial pressure for me to get a job. But I want to have a career again, and I'm beginning to get impatient for that feeling of earning my own income and producing something that matters to people other than myself, so I'm thinking hard about what I want to do from here. I know I love taking a piece of clothing from an idea/sketch to a physical object, through the drafting and fitting steps and on to sewing it up in final fabric. But I need to narrow that focus more. Do I want to design clothing and have it batch produced at a local manufacturer? Do I want to create one-off, bespoke pieces myself? What type of clothing do I want to create? Since I sewed my first bra at sewing camp last October, I've had a fascination with the fitting and construction challenges of lingerie. I'd also love the opportunity to create undergarments that really help women to feel badass and beautiful as they are. But in some ways doing lingerie feels like starting over, since I know how to draft other clothing (skirts, tops, pants, dresses). The world of lingerie and swimwear is a different beast, and I'm afraid to start the learning curve over when I'm just beginning to feel comfortable with my abilities in these other areas. But when I type it, it seems like a pretty silly reason to avoid doing something I'm excited about, and I know my education at Apparel Arts will be super useful even if I do specialize in something outside of the core patternmaking curriculum.

a summer clothing collection

A day or two after our SF friends left in mid-June, I was thinking through all of this and found myself feeling really overwhelmed and defeated. I was in a bad place for a day or two, and Tim gave me an assignment to pull me out of it: make a cohesive summer collection, in the vein of Project Runway or the final project that I would have done had I stuck around to finish the program at Apparel Arts. We decided on a slightly smaller scale (five pieces of clothing, for three full outfits) and a tight timeline (two weeks, from inception to completion). I also have plans to make a swimsuit as a sixth piece, but I'm giving myself a more lenient deadline for that since I've never sewn or drafted swimwear at all before.

initial plans

This project was exactly what I needed! I immediately felt so energized and excited to have a goal again. I got to work on rough sketches and came up with a pair of shorts, a crop top, a pair of pants, another top, and a summery dress. Then it was time to pick fabric. I limited myself to three different fabrics (plus one more for lining), rather than a different one for each article of clothing. I decided to use a double gauze, a medium weight linen, and a sheer cotton, and then I went fabric shopping and found fabrics in those categories that worked well with each other. I'm normally not a pastel person - give me all black everything and I'm happy, and if I want to go nuts with color I'll choose a dark solid. But I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, so I got an ethereal nani IRO double gauze with shades of light mint and lavender, a pale green linen to match, and then (even further from my norm!), a bright orange cotton batiste with a leaf pattern. The pastel veins of the leaves tie it back to the other two, and I think it all works nicely together! Once I had my fabrics, it was easier to plan specific details for each piece, so I began planning them more concretely. I worked my way through drafting, sewing muslins, fitting, and iterating over the next few days, one piece at a time.

The drafting and fitting process took about nine days, and there were definitely a couple of days in there when I told Tim there was absolutely no way I would finish this entire thing by the deadline. But then one day I had a pile of muslins that fit well, and five paper patterns that were ready to go with seam allowances and cutting instructions, and it was time to buy zippers, buttons, and my lining fabric so I could start sewing the final pieces. At this point I was so eager to finish that I was giving up my nights and weekend to sew. Each final garment felt like it took a long time, but looking back, each took less than a day. Considering that I fully lined most of them and was very careful in my construction, I'm really amazed that I finished all five pieces in about four days (finishing a full day ahead of my two week deadline!). I also felt great about how they turned out. This was one of the first times ever that I sewed something and didn't think "well, that part isn't great but I'll fix it the next time I make this pattern...".

This project was seriously great for my confidence. I struggle a lot with feeling creative--this is the reason I moved away from artistic pursuits and focused on math and computers when I was a teenager! I get stuck and feel like I can't possibly come up with anything interesting ever again. And then, of course, I step away and something comes to me and everything feels okay again. The shorts, crop top, and dress were pretty solid in my mind from the first day (you can see the early renditions in the sketches above, compared to the final products below). But the pants and longer tank didn't solidify until I'd muslined the other three and had to just make a decision in order to move forward. (Interestingly, that top is now one of my favorite pieces, and the pants are probably my least favorite of the bunch.)

This process certainly helped me to feel better about my creative abilities and especially my capacity to work under a deadline, but it also made me feel confident in my technical skills. Without teachers to rely on for fitting help or construction advice, I had to figure it all out myself, and that's really empowering. It feels like magic to have an idea, sketch it out, and then watch that slowly transform into a paper pattern, then a muslin (or several), and finally a real, tangible article of clothing that was just an idea a few days before. It's seriously kind of surreal, and looking between the sketches and the final photos still just blows my mind a little. It's also amazing being able to construct a full garment without a single written instruction, just knowing when to insert stay tape into a seam for stability, or install a zipper, or understitch the lining to keep it from showing on the outside.

Here are some peeks at what I made! I'm working on another post with better photos and way more details, so keep an eye out for that soon. (Edit: read it here!)

As I'm sure you can tell, I'm really proud of this collection. I really like the clothes I made and I think I'll really wear them this summer, and I'm excited to make a few more of the shorts and strappy tank in different fabrics. I really pushed myself in terms of deadline and going outside of my style comfort zone, and I'm so happy that I proved I'm able to fit and construct clothing without someone to walk me through it. But this is only the beginning! Here's to pushing myself more.

ok, what now?

So, now I'm back to thinking about what's next. In the short term, I'm taking a few days to catch up on everything I neglected for the past two weeks and to work on some house projects that I've been wanting to do since we moved in. (The most pressing: making my bedroom closet usable so my clothes can finally be put away!) And then I think I'll work on drafting that swimsuit and some bras, and hopefully practice making clothes for some friends. As confident as I feel about creating things for me, I still have no experience drafting or fitting for anyone else, and that is critical to me starting a business doing this stuff! So I'll spend some time getting more comfortable with all of that and see what sticks I guess? 

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