Tuesday, October 13, 2015

LOVED: creating beloved garments for a changing body

I was not raised to value clothes. My mother believed that interest in fashion and appearances was vain and a big waste of money. My mother was not one to waste money. After a few years of losing arguments about why I should be able to shop at Abercrombie and Fitch instead of the thrift store or K-Mart, I Discovered Feminism. And, like so many adolescents discovering something, I pretty much decided I invented it. I shaved my head and stopped shaving my legs and my disdain for spending money on clothing was NOT the same as my mother's. It was a radical anti-consumerist statement. Except For Sometimes when maybe I didn't care about that and wanted A Thing from The Mall. I shopped mostly at thrift stores and, as mentioned in my introduction, fashioned some pretty strange garments out of quilters cotton. There may have been a pair of paisley flannel overalls in there... who can say for sure (and for the love of all that is good, if someone has pictures, please let's hide them). Ok, you can have one:

14 year old Kirsten. Pre-head-shaving, post discovery-of-hemp-necklaces, in the First Knitting Era.
As an adult, I find that I am often in circles that "reject fashion". People are quick to tell me how much they don't care about what they wear or how they look and how little they are willing to pay for clothes. I did this too, until my love of knitting and my preference for quality materials meant that I really had to question what "not caring" meant. I don't go shopping as a hobby and I don't troll the malls to ensure I am perfectly in style, but knitting meant I was spending good money and good time on what I wore. Clearly I DO care what I look like, how I dress myself, how I present myself. The way I care isn't always the same and perhaps I don't give it the same weight in my life that the media wants me to, but to say that I Don't Care would be a blatant lie. I care about feeling good in my clothes and I care about what they are made of and where they come from and how they look. Maybe I even want to "look good", desiring clothes that don't make me aware of how tightly I'm holding my core muscles at every moment.
Beside looking good, what does it mean to be someone who tries to be conscious of oppression, who refuses to consider where my clothes are made and what that process does to bodies and the land those bodies live in? Sweat shop activism of the 90s is not "hip" anymore, so it likewise doesn't seem "hip" to think too hard about where our clothes come from, but it is interesting to me how dismissed it is. Fashion is so intertwined with vanity and shame and excess that we are unable to weigh our choices, our financial investments, our consumer votes, without the stigma of caring "too much" about what we wear.

Knitting Era 2? 3? Me in my Lila Pullover, him in his Odette Hoodie. Our dear friend lookin' fly in the background.

For Mother's Day, my lovely wife bought me a copy of Women In Clothes, thinking it would be something I would like. Smart woman she is, I felt like it was a look into exactly the kinds of conversations I was wanting to have. I particularly savored the conversations with queer individuals in the book, which led me to start my first blog project: Queer Closets (which, despite having several surveys waiting in the wings, hasn't seen an update in a while. Turns out, managing such a project is a LOT of work with an infant). I read this book not long after savoring this Woolful Podcast with Felicia and Karen about small wardrobes and I felt the gears in my head turning anew. Though I had been knitting garments for myself for several years, I had been hesitant to sew my own clothes. I remembered my awkward, ill-fitting and blatantly un-cool garments from high school and assumed I wasn't capable of more than that.With the passion of these women, and several more (like Sonya Philip's 100 Acts of Sewing) propelling me forward, I started tentatively sewing adult-sized clothing again.

Riva dress, improvised snap tank, 2 wiksten tanks, tunic no. 1

Sewing big feels like a much big commitment to me. Knitting is pretty noncommittal. If I don't like something, I can just rip it out and try again. If I sew something I don't like or doesn't fit, it is all that material wasted. Also, while I am aware that I want to start shifting my wardrobe to more handmade items, I am conscious that I am doing this at kind of a weird time in my life. My body if shifting.. often and a lot. I wasn't a dainty pregnant lady. I carried big and now my body, which is mostly back to its pre-baby weight, is a very different shape. Many of my old clothes don't fit like they used to and I don't know that they ever will again. I want to say that I love my body just as much as I always have, but truthfully, I'm a little self-conscious. I feel like I have two options: fight my body and the way it is now, trying to force it into a shape it never was and doesn't want to be, or explore the way my body is shaped now, learn how it feels best and looks best. The latter feels more respectful of a body that worked for over 100 hours to bring the baby that stretched it all out into this world.

Just sustaining some life in my favorite dress

Unfortunately, the sudden shift of motherhood means I have to replace a lot of my wardrobe at once, but I want to do it in a way that feels good to me. I am also nursing all-the-friggin-time, which means that I can't wear tops or dresses that make it difficult for me to whip out my breasts... all-the-friggin-time. AND, which I hope to enjoy a long and healthy breastfeeding realtionship with our son (and any subsequent children we may be blessed with), I am aware that my need in this regard is temporary. The idea of replacing my entire wardrobe with "Nursing Wear" is impractical, so I feel like I constantly have my eyes peeled for clothing that makes nursing easy, but that I would gladly wear when I no longer have a nursling (and that will hopefully still fit after my breasts change again, post-weaning).

My biggest sewing triumph so far is creating two such pieces without any pattern. I had some grey linen laying around and after mashing up several patterns with some clothes I already owned, I came up with a snap-down tunic and a snap-down tank top that I love. They are cool enough for the summer, but easy to throw a sweater over in the winter. I could wear them every day.
Snap down tunic over leggings with my beloved Antler Cardigan (by tincanknits). This is my staple outfit.

My other favorite thing to wear right now is this amazing dress from Conscious Clothing. It snaps down the front!!! And it is made of really soft organic linen. Maybe others wouldn't consider it an "investment piece", but for me, it felt like it. It was the first time I spent that much money of a piece of clothing that wasn't shoes OR that didn't start off as a pile of yarn in my lap. It is a simple cut and I am sure that I could make something similar, but I felt good about supporting a small producer at a time in my life when I don't have time or money to spare on fiddling with sewing patterns. I love this dress.
Riva snap dress with my wedding shawl

I realized that I save these three items for the days that I leave the house and pretty much wear PJs the rest of the time! At a different stage in my life, I might be able to get away with having 3 or 4 garments that I wear over and over, but as it is, I don't escape a day without berries or yogurt being smeared down my sleeve at best, and the, ahem... "processed result" of those things getting on me at worst. I generally have to wash whatever I wear after only one day, which means that, unless I am going to commit to hermitage, I need a few more staples. So, with the new-found proof that I really AM ok with wearing the same few things... in the same few colors...  over and over and over, I splurged and begged my inspiring instafriend, Jessica, to dye me some linen to make myself another garment. And, of course, when she showed me my approximate options for color (natural dyeing is always something of a gamble), I selected one very close to the color of the blue linen dress I already own and love. Ha! A woman of great risk, I am not... At least I know how the color will look on me!

And now I have some decisions to make: what to do with it? Here are my top contenders:

The Alder Shirt Dress by Grainline Studios
The Maya Dress by Marilla Walker (button down version with tie)
The Endless Summer Tunic by AVFKW (with an improvised button band)

Any votes?

What are other folks' favorite button-down patterns? Any long sleeved ones? I'd love to experiment more with sleeves!

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful words & beautiful garments. I love the theme of respecting change, and I hope you'll post more as you work on your hand-dyed linen dress! Have you seen the Adelaide dress from Seamwork Magazine? https://www.seamworkmag.com/catalog/adelaide it has snaps, which could probably easily be replaced with buttons, and I bet it would still be quicker than an Alder (which for me was worth it, but time consuming!). I absolutely love the long sleeves of the Prism dress by AVFKW, so I would vote for that with an improvised button band (maybe halfway instead of full length, to make it a popover?). Thanks for sharing your thoughts & process!
    ~ Jess