Thursday, July 26, 2012

Percolating about size

Sometimes when I hear a comment somebody makes it takes a bit of time to filter through my mind, percolate, and then I just need to say something. I am very consciously trying to make things of all different sizes for Meandering Design. Not just because I have difficulty finding beautiful clothes in my size, but also because I have listened to my friends of all different shapes and sizes with the same lament. I think my friends are beautiful and I want them to feel beautiful. That is hard to do when you feel like your body does not fit the mold.

Last week there were some side walk sales in my neighborhood and as I was driving down Damen I saw a piece of barkcloth being displayed and I pulled over immediately. I need a bumper sticker that says "I Brake for Barkcloth" (for those of you unfamiliar with barkcloth it is a nubby fabric from primarily the 40's and 50's that was used to decorate the 'boudoir'. So you would have barkcloth curtains, a barkcloth settee, a barkcloth duvet cover, barkcloth lampshade, etc. It comes in great colors with florals and also tropical prints. I have some and I hoard it). I did not buy the barkcloth, because it was too expensive, but I did find a really cool 40's duvet cover that I can reuse for fabric, some lace, and I may have possibly bought more buttons (I know, I have a problem).

The woman who was hosting the sidewalk sale pointed to the shop next door and asked me if I had ever shopped there. At that point I realized she was the owner and designer, and I answered truthfully that I had tried to but nothing fit me. She said that their clothes were made out of vintage fabric. I love this designers work. It is modern, yet romantic and vintage, all at the same time and the articles of clothing and accessories are gorgeous. I have long wanted to buy something, except every time I have been in there I have felt out of place and uncomfortable. While the clothes don't fit she has some beautiful accessories, but since I feel like I don't belong I walk in and turn around and flee without purchasing something.

The seamstress in me understands what she is saying. With limited materials it is challenging to make clothing in all sizes. Except, I wonder if it would be possible to make less of one item in more sizes in order to sell to a wider range of clientele. So, I will continue to make clothes in a whole range of sizes and some of those will be one of a kind, because there was only enough fabric to make one. That I think makes it pretty darn special. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A beautiful space

I have been to the Fabric Warehouse at 2121 W. 21st Street in Pilsen many times. Normally though, I go on Sunday (they are closed on Saturday) and a couple weeks ago I went during a week day and the mood was completely different. On Sundays they are mobbed and you barely have a chance to interact with the people who are checking you out, but on a weekday you get a chance to see what is going on around you.

Photo credit Ingrid Oyen

I love this place because it is where fabric goes to be revived. Fabric that is no longer in style, or fabric from stores that are closing down, end up at the Fabric Warehouse. It keeps a lot of textiles out of the landfill. Pilsen is a neighborhood that is made up of a mix of ethnicities and they were all reflected in the employees at the Warehouse. I heard quite a few different languages being spoken. It is such an important part of the neighborhood.

Photo credit Ingrid Oyen

I have taken many people here to explore. It is dusty, a bit grimy, and very colorful. It can be overwhelming so the best thing to do is to walk in and not look for anything specific. You never know what you are going to find. My friend Ingrid came with me one time and took these gorgeous photos. She is a gifted photographer and I have a couple of her photos hanging on my walls. They give a very good sense of how it feels to be there. This picture is one of my favorites. This is only one aisle of a whole heck of a lot of aisles full of fabric.

Photo Credit Ingrid Oyen

Back view of bolts of fabric. Photo credit Ingrid Oyen

Keep an eye on the shop because in the next week I'll be listing skirts and bags made out of some amazing batik I found on a previous expedition.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Birthday wishes

Since it's my birthday  yes, I am a Cancer) I am giving you a present. Use coupon code MYBDAY2012 at check out for a 20% off discount. Sale runs through Sunday, July 22 at midnight (central time zone). Happy Birthday to me!

If you see something you like but you need it in a different size, or it sells out, please drop me a line,, and I will get you what you want. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A flash of red

A couple of people have told me that they have lost interest in Mad Men because they did not like Don Draper (I dated someone much too like him in college!). I have been watching the television with my eyes glued on the fashion and the colors. It is fascinating to watch the shift into the more free form of the 1960's. I also love seeing the color combinations.

Anyways, there is a scene with Peggy, her boyfriend, and two of the men from the office and while she is sitting it looks like she is wearing a simple grey dress, but then she stands up and on the side there is this bright flash of red. It was just gorgeous.

Her dress is so staid and almost dowdy, but that flash of red takes it to a whole other level. Love love love. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The thrill of the hunt

I went up to Wisconsin to visit a friend and also to do a little treasure hunting. For years my family has been going to the Columbus Antique Mall in Columbus, WI. In fact I think my mother was a bit disappointed that I went without her.  I bought my first vintage camera there and it took me about 5 years before I bought film for it and used it. Now I have a thing for vintage cameras.

The antique mall is completely overwhelming with three warehouse sized floors of antiques and even a museum about Christopher Columbus. I tend to skip that part! It ihelps narrow the search f you know what you are looking for.

While I already shared the fabulous buttons I found, I also found some rick-rack, fabric, lace, trim and my new favorite needle threader.

I dug through a pile of dusty textiles and discovered this beautiful crepe de chien which I believe is from the 1950's. The colors are amazing, especially the mustardy green. I cannot wait to make it into a dress.

I found this cool feedsack fabric. In fact, I also saw an original feedsack at the antique mall for the first time. As a marketing ploy grain used to be sold in cotton sacks that could be reused as fabric. It was easy to peel off the label and be left with the beautiful fabric. It was especially popular in the 1930's when women could not afford fabric for new clothes. There are also quilts made up of feedsack fabric. They are quite beautiful.

I found this sweet bit of bright cotton fabric, that I think is from the 1960's or 70's. I think it is going to be turned into a picnic blanket and lined with a sheet my friend gave me (I was lucky to inherit a ton of her fabric when she cleaned out her sewing room).

Finally I found some crochet trim. Looking at it I realized that I could probably figure out how to make it, but then I realized that may mean I am going a bit overboard. I once told a friend that if I buy a melon baller, then it is time to commit me. This was said after watching a few too many episodes of the Martha Stewart Show.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


A year ago at the Chicago Antique Mart I bought an 1880's dress form. I know it is from around that time because of the brand name tag on the model and her shape. Girl has got some hips. The two gentlemen who were with me looked at me, looked at the dress form, looked at me, looked at the dress form and then I realized they were trying to point out that she wasn't my size. Well, I think her hips are my size, but she has a tiny waist. It did not matter to me because I wanted to take her home. We packed her up in my friend's Mini Cooper (holy cow can you pack a lot of stuff into a mini) and I tucked her in the corner of my living room. Of course then I scared the bejesus out of myself when I walked past her in the middle of the night and thought someone was in my house. The two gentlemen predicted that would happen. Whatever.
Almost a year later and Mrs. Bertha Palmer is an integral part of my life. She is named after Bertha Palmer the Chicago socialite whose husband opened the famed Palmer House hotel. Mrs. Bertha Palmer was a bit of a fashionista in her time and just look at those hips.

Unfortunately when I hang a straight skirt on her it looks a little awkward because she has a bustle on her butt. Full skirts look fabulous on her though.

When I started taking pictures, with my iPhone, the only white wall I could find in the house was a doorway. In my pictures it looked like a dress form in front of a door. Kind of lame. I decided I wanted a back drop, but I did not feel like hanging a sheet or buying an expensive backdrop. So, I started looking for an old projector screen. I found a couple listed on Etsy, but the shipping made it cost prohibitive. Then I check Craigslist and a gentleman in Logan Square was selling one for $20. I went and picked it up that day.

My apartment gets a lot of natural light, but some days it is just not enough. I found some old film lights online, but I think I would have to hold them while I tried to take a picture. If I had an assistant that may work, but alack and alas, it is just me. Then I was at my grandmother's house and my mom had me crawling behind the air conditioner to try and fix it (um, needless to say I did not fix it) and she turned on Poppy's work light. I went to Home Depot the next day and bought one.

The dress form cost $100, the projector screen $20, iPhone clip and tripod $30, the light $35 and metal milk crate (free from the Morton Building)*. While it is not the perfect set-up, for today, it works. I had to buy a clip and tripod for my iPhone because it is really hard to take a non blurry picture with that thing.

This is what the process looks like when I am taking photos. My kitchen turns into a very tiny studio and I trip over things every which way I turn.

*My grandparent's live out in Coal City and my grandfather built a Morton Building, which is basically a giant barn. In the Morton Building are farm implements, gas stations, coke machines, train stuff, construction materials, tools, and along with all of that is a camper, a 1980's Crown Vic, a speed boat, a pontoon boat, a 1960 something Ford Fairlane with suicide doors, at least a couple of tractors and so much more. In order to take pictures of skirts against the projector screen I needed a way to raise the dress form up. My friend Dan was going to an auction so I asked him to find me an old milk crate. He told me I should just look in the Morton Building. That's just what I did and lo and behold there were about ten metal milk crates in there and about 20 plastic ones. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What is the cost of handmade?

This is a difficult post to write, because no one really wants to talk about money. Except, the topic keeps coming up and it is one I am struggling with.

Since I am just starting out I have a lot to learn about running my own business and especially about marketing and Etsy. I took a Dabble class (Dabble rocks, check them out here)  about marketing that was taught by Rebecca from purpleandlime. Rebecca is awesome and is a trained Etsy educator and thanks to her I think I finally grasp how to use Twitter. Oh, and I have a better understanding about how to use social media for marketing.

At the end of the training we talked a little bit about pricing. Rebecca said that the wholesale price of an object should be half of your retail costs. She is right, that is the correct pricing structure. Except, today, if I were to try to sell wholesale then I would be making about $5 an hour.

Sewing takes time. Even when I am upcycling an item that is already made I have to source items, wash and iron everything, mend it, cut it up and resew it. Then I have to iron it, take pictures, and write up a listing. Sometimes, not always, upcycing takes more time then just starting from scratch. Yet to me it is worthwhile because it is quite rewarding work.

Handcrafted items are a labor of love. I do not have a factory where I can churn things out- it's just me. I also have not exported labor costs to another country. It's just me sitting here in my apartment in Chicago at the sewing machine. I do my best try to price things so that they are affordable, but also priced to cover the cost of the materials (that means fabric, zippers, thread, upkeep of machines, etc.) and pay myself at least minimum wage. Fluctuations in price for similar things, such as skirts, are based on the cost I paid for the fabric and the amount of time the skirt took to make.

For now, I am not sure what the answer is. Except, I think that the larger question is, would you pay more for something that is handcrafted?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Save the Buttons

Once upon a time there was a girl who collected buttons. She had a lot of buttons...Whenever I see buttons at a thrift store or antique shop I have to take them home. In fact I just bought these fabulous buttons from the Columbus Antique Mall. I think these are going to take a frock from lovely to spectacular. That is if I can part with them!

I have a box with drawers from the hardware store, that I believe was meant to store and sort screws and what not, but mine is filled with buttons. I have a couple of old Mason jars full of buttons and yet, still, I find buttons tucked into nooks and crannies in my sewing room.

©Amy Boyle Photography

I just realized though that not everybody feels the odd compulsion that I do to collect buttons and so when you lose a button it isn't possible to go to your button stash and find a button to replace it. I do have some friends who inherited a button stash from their mother or grandmother and if you were lucky enough to do so then please, by all means, use the buttons.

If you did not inherit a jar of buttons it is quite easy to create your own. Many times when you buy an item of clothing it comes with an extra button. Save it. Throw it in a jam jar or a baggie or toss it in the junk drawer (the latter may make finding a button difficult though). If you have an item of clothing that is too worn or wrecked to donate then cut off the buttons before you get rid of it.

The pink nightgown I made into a shirt only came with two top buttons and so I went through my stash and found a couple of more to add to it. I have a set of black velveteen buttons that I have reused on multiple items of clothing. I have also swapped out buttons if I did not like them and buttons can change the way something looks.

This shirt is available here

Collar from a dress remade and finished with a button from my stash.

If this was a fairy tale I'm sure that there would have been a lesson to be learned, but all I can say is start saving your buttons!

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I will admit that when I was a little girl I had a pink bedroom. Then I went through my goth phase in high school and everything was black. I even dyed my hair black at one point. Which was a really bad idea. Then at the point where I might have thought of moving out of the black phase I bought into the belief that black was slimming. That is a whole pile of, as my grandfather would say, horse manure. Gradually I started adding color into my wardrobe. Yet, pink and I were still not on speaking terms.

I am generally drawn to fabrics that are orange, which is the only reason I think that I can give for buying these fabrics. I bought them quite a few years ago, but only because they were orange. Then when I started going through my fabric stash (which is a conversation for another day) I pulled these out and realized they were pink. In fact one is pink with a mauve and tangerine flowers and the other has neon pink, green, yellow and orange. Neon!!

Pink and it is a jersey knit!

Did I mention that this is 1960's polyester?!
I bought the fabric below because it was plaid and I lurve plaid. I completely overlooked the fact that while it is primarily grey, it is pink too. I also made this fabric into a skirt for the shop and I am having a hard time letting it go, which explains why I haven't listed it in the shop yet!

The rain came through as I was taking this picture so the pink is a little paler then in real life.
While I was at the Fabric Warehouse in Pilsen I picked up the hot pink and chocolate fabric below to make a skirt for myself. It is a Nigerian batik and it had a very waxy feel to it, so I only bought enough for one skirt (yes, only for me). I may have to go back and get some more because when I washed it the fabric ended up having a lovely unwaxy feel to it. I bought a hot pink shirt to wear with it. 

Hot Pink!!!
Apparently I now wear pink. So, I had to have the right shoes. These are made from Liberty of London fabric and they have pink velvet shoelaces. Seriously-pink velvet shoelaces.