Thursday, August 23, 2012

Name the Cake Patterns cover girl!

As previously mentioned, I'm having a delightful time working on the illustrations for StephC (aka The Consulting Dressmaker)'s fabulous new independent pattern line, Cake Patterns. Almost-final Tiramisu knit dress envelope cover art above—but this cover girl needs a name, and Steph is soliciting ideas, detailed backstories (and pattern testers, too!) Why not throw a name or two in the hat?

I'm super-excited to make this dress myself in the chevroned strips version... I already have the perfect fabric in the stash—this lovely soft cotton/spandex knit I got at NY Elegant Fabrics a few months back:

Red and white striped cotton spandex knit

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sewing Without a Cat and Other Struggles

Although I try to keep this blog strongly focused on knitting and sewing, I've been struggling with a few things recently that I wanted to share, from least to most challenging.

#1: Life Without a Cat.

Above is a recent photo of my sweet cat Ronnie (on right), snuggled up with with his best friend Squeaky. But that's not my chair, and that's not my apartment.

A few weeks ago we were devastated to learn in Z's latest round of allergy tests that she had become SEVERELY allergic to cats (after previously testing negative)... which likely explained her constant runny nose and the horrible flare-ups she'd been having in her eczema, which her dermatologist told us were probably related to newly developed environmental allergies, not her existing severe food allergies.

As painful as it was, we had no choice—we sent Ronnie to live with my parents, washed EVERYTHING in the apartment, scrubbed and vacuumed and scrubbed again... the allergist says it will take SIX years to remove all the cat dander completely because it's so sticky, but we have hopefully reduced the allergen load by a big amount.

The good news is, little Z's eczema has improved significantly. She still scratches constantly (waking herself up at night), and still has some patches on her face, arms and legs, and we still have to give her Zyrtec every day and COVER her in layers of ointments and cream twice a day... but for the first time in MONTHS, her face is no longer covered with oozing open sores and a bumpy red rash—probably because she was so fond of hugging Ronnie and rubbing her face against him.

Still, living without a cat is such a bummer. We had already lost one cat when my sweet (but very sickly) little Riley died last year, and it's just WEIRD coming home to an apartment without a cat to greet me and wind around my legs, or sit on the floor next to the sewing table or... you get the idea. (Also: I'll never qualify for the Sewing With Cats Blog Award! Even though I've had to replace my presser foot cable TWICE due to feline destruction!)

Little Z really misses him, so she's been playing a lot with a stuffed kitty doll that she has named "Ronnie." But I have to say he probably doesn't miss her—she was always a little too generous with her affection! And both Ronnie and Squeaky are happier not to be solo cats anymore.

#2: Sending My Food-Allergic Toddler Off to Preschool

So #1 sucks. But #2... is beyond terrifying. Z has life-threatening allergies to sesame, mustard, eggs, tree nuts and cow's milk. Even a small amount of these foods—as we learned the first time she had a tiny bite of hummus and we had to call an ambulance to rush her to the ER—could be extremely dangerous for her. And because sesame and mustard aren't "Top 8" allergens in the U.S. (though they are in Canada and Australia), U.S. food labels aren't required to mention them, and can even include them in vague terms like "spices" or "natural flavorings."

So there aren't ANY restaurants we can safely take her to these days (she's just way too grabby and mobile), and all the constant label-reading and cooking EVERYTHING special and from scratch and calling companies to make sure they don't process sesame or mustard in the same factory as her bread or cereal is a bit exhausting. We bake her special allergen-free cupcakes if she gets invited to a birthday party, and we ALWAYS carry safe snacks for her everywhere.

Since she was born, Z has always been taken care of by family—at first by me, and then when I went back to work, by my mom, and for the past year-and-a-half, by my husband. We've never even hired a babysitter for her, since we don't feel safe trusting an outsider to manage her severe food allergies. The few date nights we get, she's been watched by family members or by generous friends who came to our sesame and nut-free apartment.

Out on the playground, we probably look like so-called "helicopter parents", because we have to constantly be hovering to make sure she doesn't put anything dangerous in her mouth (like a dropped nut, say) or go too near to a child eating hummus or a sesame snack or goldfish crackers.

But as much as I would like to keep her in a magic allergy-free bubble, little Z is old enough that she needs to be around more kids. So we've enrolled her fulltime in a wonderful little preschool near our apartment where she'll get to play, learn, grow and make new friends.

We're meeting with everyone at the school to work out a plan for keeping her safe whenever kids are eating or snacking, for having safe foods available for her for snacktimes—and of course for having an Epi-pen available and everyone trained to use it in case of a reaction.

They are super responsive and understanding, and have managed severe allergies before (though maybe not as many in one child as Z has?!), but I will admit the whole thing is giving me nightmares.

Z, on the other hand, is totally psyched. She had her first two "assimilation" (is it just me, or does that remind you of the Borg?) classes this week and keeps talking about how much she loves school and her teacher.

#3: Etcetera.

So yeah. Add in the complete lack of sleep or free time I've had in the evenings since Z learned to climb out of her crib and we tried to put her in a "big girl" bed... and the tighter-than-tight budget regime we've instituted to make preschool possible (we've completely eliminated takeout or buying lunches out, groceries for each meal must cost less than $2.50/person, no buying books or DVDs or sewing supplies or music, thrift-store clothes only, etc.)...

... and I'm a bit frazzled, to say the least. I'm trying to stay positive, though—I have a wonderful daughter, a loving husband, an amazing family and a cool job and I live in a fabulous city! The school is being great about Z's food allergies and my kitty is in a happy new home.

And there are upsides, of course! For example, our strict budget has led to us trying lots of tasty new recipes—and Z has been loving coming with me to the farmer's market every Saturday to pick out her favorite fruits and veggies. She even helps me cook—last night she mixed up the guacamolĂ© herself and helped me make pizza dough for tonight's dinner, and the other day she tore the kale leaves from the stems to make kale soup.

Thanks for listening! Phew!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Can Home Sewing Save Us from the Evils of the Cheap Fashion Industry?

"Fashion largely deserves its bad reputation. It's now a powerful, trillion-dollar global industry that has too much influence over our pocketbooks, self-image and storage spaces. It behaves with embarrassingly little regard for the environment or human rights."
—Elizabeth Cline, in Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

The most inspiring sewing book I've read in years is not really a sewing book at all—it contains no patterns, no tips, no brightly colored how-to diagrams or pattern-matching instructions.

Instead, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion is a trip into the heart of the clothing industry of today—and yesterday—a personal history, and maybe even a bit of a slow fashion (or even slow sewing) manifesto.

This book was a more compelling call to get back to my sewing machine than any of the adorable and colorfully packaged sewing how-to books and pattern books I own. Thrifting, making and mending our own clothes won't solve the global environmental, labor and human rights disaster that is the rise of the cheap fashion industry--but they can't hurt, either. (And they may be the only way that those of us on a really tight budget can opt out—to some degree, anyway—of giving our hard-earned dollars to the undeserving cheap fashion industry).

Cline does an excellent (and even entertaining) job of breaking down the life (and afterlife) of cheap fashion, and its effects on the planet, human rights, domestic clothing jobs, the economy and more. As aware as I'd like to think I am, I quickly realized I knew very little about the history and present-day reality of retail clothing production.

She visits New York and L.A.'s Garment Districts, clothing factories in China and Bangladesh, thrift store charities overwhelmed with unusable donations of cheap crap, textile recyclers, vintage sellers, shuttered garment factories throughout the U.S. She talks to fashion designers, factory owners, cheap fashion addicts who post their large hauls on Youtube and luxury fashion addicts with soaring credit card debt.

She also gets into the nitty-gritty of how garments are priced (underpriced at the low end, and overpriced at the luxury end), and what those costs do—and don't—include.

A smart and inspiring read--and call to action!--Cline's book has been aptly called the Fast Food Nation or Ominivore's Dilemma of the fashion industry. A few surprises for me:

  • New York's Garment District—which I tend to think of mainly as an excellent fabric shopping resource—was once actually the main factory center of retail garment manufacturing in the U.S. (Sorry if this was obvious to all of you—I never really thought about it!).
  • One of the reasons the cost of good-quality vintage clothing has gone up so much is that it's one of the last ways textile recyclers (who purchase unsold second-hand clothes and rags from Goodwill and similar charities) can actually make any money, since most of the clothes they receive are worthless poorly-made H&M-esque crap.
  • In the 1990s, 50 percent of clothing purchased in the U.S. was still made in the U.S. Now it's more like 2 percent. (Quoting this from memory, as I don't have my copy of the book in front of me).

Throughout Overdressed, she also talks about the rise and fall of home sewing and mending—which used to be the main way women of modest and middle incomes were able to afford to keep their clothes up-to-date and in good repair. Towards the end of the book, Cline talks about the resurgence in home sewing and interviews a few sewists and make-do-and-menders, and even buys her own sewing machine.

"My opinion on home sewing is that it’s already so much more sustainable than buying off-the-rack clothes from a huge chain store. Home sewers are part of the solution, not the problem. I know that resources for home sewers have dwindled over the years. Parts of the country don’t even have fabric shops. I think the more immediate goal should be to grow the number of home sewers before we tackle issue of where their fabric is being sourced."
—Cline, in a recent interview on Pattern Review

After I finished the book, I was so fired up I immediately:

  • whipped up the polka dot dress I shared recently
  • began an obsessive inquiry into life, the universe and the meaning of STUFF and the materials economy, including reading Annie's Leonard's fantastic book The Story of Stuff (you do NOT want to know what goes into the making of a simple "cheap" white T-shirt or the costs to the environment, human rights and human health that get left out of that "low" price tag!) and checking out Greenpeace's "Detox Now" campaign
  • made a gazillion trillion plans for next projects, which were then promptly derailed when...
  • my 2-year-old learned out to climb out of her crib at night and we had to convert it to a toddler bed... upon which point she decided she wanted to party around the living room singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" until past midnight. Every night. And even when she does go to bed, by 2 a.m. we hear the pitter patter of little feet and she's crawling into our bed to kick us in the back all night long...

Sigh. So it goes.

What inspiring sewing reads have you picked up lately?

P.S. Did any of you watch the Project Runway All Stars episode a while back featuring the fabulous Nanette Lepore giving the contestants a lesson in estimating costs and designing garments to be sewn in a New York Garment Center factory? I've always admired her designs, but found it especially cool that she's one of a few "mid-range" (i.e. sadly way out of my budget but what a good quality garment ACTUALLY costs to make) designers who still manufactures here in the U.S...

P.P.S. One thing to remember—which I forgot to mention above—is that no matter how cheap a garment is, it was NOT spit out by a magic garment-making machine. Someone, somewhere, somehow, physically sat down at a sewing machine and sewed every seam on that $2 tank top or that $5 T-shirt.


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