I have been doing a lot of sewing lately – making garments for my clothing collection, petal-una. (Scroll down for images of some pieces from the new Spring collection). I started this limited edition and one-of-a-kind collection as a counterpoint to felting. I also wanted an opportunity to learn new skills and develop possible wearable formats for my felted cloth. Alas, sewing has never been one of my favorite tasks but the scale of my enterprise makes hiring someone impractical. As it turns out, it has been an eye-opener for me on a variety of levels.
As I construct these garments, it occurs to me how remote the act of clothing construction is from my mind when I slip into my clothes each day. In spite of my understanding of the skill required to design, engineer and assemble clothing, I acknowledge taking this basic facet of living wholly for granted. Anyone who spends time and energy making their own clothing will recognize the investment made in each article, whether it is mass produced or a one-off piece. Creating the petal-una collection myself raises my awareness considerably. After putting together even a modest body of work such as this, I can only say that garment worker/sewing professionals of the world are unsung heroes! This is particularly the case given the fact that many apparel manufacturing factories throughout the world reflect 19th century industrial standards and practices a 21st century post-industrial/Western worker would not tolerate.
There was a time when sewing was a common ingredient in most households (long before the mechanical-electric, let alone the electronic sewing machine). My great-grandmother made household accessories and most of the clothing she and her children wore. As far as I can tell from existing photographs, the clothing she created was stylish and sophisticated for the era. As I grew up, I observed my mother doing the same thing for economy and pleasure. With the apparent patience of Job, she plunged into twin outfits, costumes, and other miscellany for my sister and I, as well as clothing for herself. Long before sergers were available, I recall her skillfully assembling and smartly wearing slim-fitting, knit dresses inspired by Diane von Furstenberg’s high-fashion line.
When I was old enough to navigate the machine, I was given basic sewing instruction. I did manage to complete some projects. Unfortunately, though, I have little memory of anything but suffering at the machine, and my impatience resulted in many a frustrating session which usually ended in my mother bailing me out and completing the most tedious aspects of a given project. Of course, I did later figure things out on my own. I took a home-economics class in high school (do they still offer those anymore?) and made tailored clothing which actually fit and which I wore proudly. However, I was attracted to the idea of fashion but not creating it for myself – it was cheaper and easier to buy something when need arose and since I was typically wearing jeans and t-shirts when I wasn’t in my school uniform, there was little motivation to sew. As time passed and I left home, except for the occasional curtain, my sewing career ended…that is, until I started “enriching” fabric and needed a way to give it 3-dimensional life. Given my checkered history with sewing, it is a bit ironic that I assemble my own modest designs today. Nevertheless, sewing is now an integral part of my creative process and I am learning to enjoy it more an more…really!