Archive for the ‘Sewing’ Category

When I woke up this morning it was still dark. I was meant to go to the farm, but without moving I could tell it was pouring, and, apparently, while I’ve been sleeping in late after my all-nighters sewing (sleeping in late means I sleep til 8:30 or 9), it’s started staying dark until after 6. It was actually cool, and I was glad I had turned the fan off before going to bed, because sometime in the night I had even pulled the blanket up over me. I am such a pansy when it comes to cold.

I listened for a few moments longer, debating whether I should even bother going to the farm since it was my last day for the summer anyway, and really I should finish prepping for the students coming back, and then I realized that the rain I was hearing was not only outside the windows. I had forgotten to put the bucket back on the stairs in the foyer. Shit. It has been raining inside my apartment for about a month, and the management have yet to figure out the cause. My guess is the antique roof. My house is over 150 years old, after all.

Possibly needless to say, I stayed home for a few hours trying to deal with the mess. At least this leak is in the foyer rather than say, the last two, which were in the kitchen and in my roommate’s bedroom. Alas, this meant I missed my last day at the farm. I’m giving up my workshare because between the students coming back this Saturday and the Renaissance Festival starting the Saturday after, I will be working. Non-stop. We’ll see how the blogging fares when things really get going.

I had intended to write a lovely post about how wonderful it is to wake up in the cooler mornings. I love cool mornings because they remind me that faire is coming up. Even when I lived in Georgia and we didn’t have pleasant cool mornings until October, when we finally got them my brain kept whispering, it’s time for faire, it’s time for faire. The magical thing about the MD faire, to me, is its setting. I love to visit the grounds in the off season, when there’s no one there, especially right after faire closes at the end of October when the leaves are turning and everything feels so crisp and sharp. The faire grounds, which are permanently set up with the mis-matched wooden houses that serve as booths, are set in the midst of a forest. These are not trees that sprung up after the area was cleared, these are fairly aged trees that faire was literally built around. I kid you not, there are several trees that grow in the middle of our booth. They’re tall, strong, trees, and above your head in the early morning while sweeping out the booth you can hear the crows overhead calling to one another, and watch the light filtering down in patches of green and gold through the crowns of leaves far above. A tree frog fell on my friend’s head once, and I’m sure there is a whole other world of life up there, ignoring the goings on of the dressed up patrons below.

I can’t think of a better word than “magical” to describe the experience. When you step into faire, you feel that you have stepped into an actual village. The buildings were all constructed by their owners over the years, and so are all wooden, in all different sizes, with bits tacked on as the owners needed more space. There are random turrets and balconies and canopies, and while I haven’t the faintest idea what a medieval town would really look like, I can’t imagine that the chaotic cluster of haphazard buildings is terribly far off. The trees give you the impression that it has been here for ages, though it has only been 34 years. I haven’t been to too many other faires, but I’m told none of them have this same sense of stepping through time when you arrive, and that most of them are in big sunny fields with pre-fab aluminum booths. I can’t even imagine. If they ever move the MD faire, as they’ve been talking about doing, I think I’m going to cry for a month.

None of this has anything to do with food, of course, except that my fall is always overwhelmingly dominated by faire. It makes being a foodie difficult, because fall is the time when I’m supposed to be storing food non-stop. And I am, or I’m trying at least. It’s led to a lot of sleepless nights, that’s for sure. Between sewing and trying to process all the vegetables that come through my kitchen, I haven’t had time for much of anything else.

Here’s the current list of things I need to get done this week, just to share. Keep in mind that all of this has to fit in between the hours of 7 PM and whenever I finally pass out from exhaustion:

– Make tomato sauce for storage
– Finish making salsa for storage
– Can more tomatoes
– Make muffins from the pulp of the fruit I juiced
– Roast edamame (which also includes shelling them, which takes ages)
– Freeze more squash, eggplant, and peppers
– Make more pasta
– Figure out where I’m going to put all this frozen stuff as the freezer is already packed
– Start making cat food (if possible)
– Go picking to get more fruit and make more jam
– Look up a recipe for ketchup and try making that
– Attempt to make a second batch of wine (thinking fruit this time)
– Try to figure out if there’s something else I can can now that I’ve figured out how not to be intimidated by my intimidating pressure canner
– Make salsa verde from all the tomatillos hanging out in the fridge
– Make pesto

Ha! All this, and it’s not even serious harvest season yet! I also left off the pile of sewing I have to do: three more dresses and several pairs of pants for the booth, finishing up some custom orders, pants for the handsome fella, putting grommets in my new corset, and a vest for my stepdad if I can fit it in. And you all wonder why I’ve been out of touch lately.


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Sewing Sober

There was a dress in the lobby of the fashion building of my college that was made sometime in the 19th century. That’s in the 18-somethings if you’re like me and can never remember which century is which. The thing that fascinated me the most about it was that it was made entirely by hand. And you almost couldn’t tell.

When I have been lucky enough to see a piece of historic clothing close up, I have been completely blown away by the skill of the person who made it. I do an awful lot of hand sewing and my stitches are never, even when I’m not drinking and sewing at the same time (shhhh), that tiny and perfect and even. I don’t know how these people didn’t go blind. I don’t know how their arms didn’t fall off. They were really, really good at what they did.

The Egyptians made cloth so fine we actually can’t really duplicate it today. So did many Native American cultures. One of the things I sometimes worry about, in thinking that there may be some kind of crash, is that I would no longer be able to have the kind of clothing I love, because it would be rather pointless. And it would be, in a way. I love things with structure. I am in love with corsets and have studied their history extensively (at least I did in college). This is why I love clothing from the Renaissance- it’s very, very structured, almost geometric. It’s designed to make shapes that a body will not make on it’s own. Some people think that tortuous, but I don’t know, I’m just fascinated.

Unfortunately that clothing was a product of an extremely unbalanced hierarchy. The people at the top had lots and lots of wealth and lots of resources. The people at the bottom had nothing. Even the people at the top had a lot less than we do now- because fabric was so precious, they reused it until it fell apart. You can see the same set of sleeves, sometimes with slightly different beading (as if some had to be redone) on multiple gowns of Queen Elizabeth. Regardless, Queen Elizabeth (the first) only had so many gowns because there were an awful lot of people under her producing them rather than say, just doing what they needed to do to provide for themselves and their families.

The shining light for me is that pre civilization cultures typically had an awful lot of leisure time, presuming they weren’t in the middle of a really terrible drought or something. They therefore had a lot more time for art. Things were decorated, often very elaborately. Whenever I need to remind myself that yes, things would be a lot better without civilization, I think of those things, and think to myself- well, after all, right now I don’t get to make many beautiful things, just for the sake of it. I’m too busy trying to make some money at this. One day I hope that won’t be true.

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I get kind of ripped off with my sewing. I’m aware of this. It’s why I haven’t made it my full time job, versus the thing I do in the evenings after I get home from “work work,” as I call it. People are simply unwilling to pay what I ask for sewing. They can too easily go to a store and buy the same thing for a tenth of the price.

Think about this for a second. If I say, take in a skirt, it takes me at least an hour. Another hour was spent simply on going and meeting the customer and figuring out what they wanted and having them try the thing on to see how much it had to be taken in. Not to mention driving somewhere to meet them and then doing it again a second time to drop it off. If I’m going to charge myself a fair wage, even if it’s only $10 an hour, I have to charge at least $25. Half the time they bought the skirt at Wal-Mart for $15. Me taking it in cost more than the skirt itself.

This is why I stopped doing alterations except for friends. They are a pain in the ass, they always take more time than necessary (because invariably whatever sweatshop made the dress or skirt or whatever put it together in some obnoxious way that makes it impossible to get it apart again), and no one wants to pay me fairly for them. For a long while I only did custom work, and then I realized no one wanted to pay me fairly for that either. For a dress that I made a pattern for, cut out, and put together, even a fairly simple dress for faire, right there you have at least five hours of work, probably more. For something like this I will probably charge about $75. That’s only $15 an hour. Most likely less. For highly skilled labor that, let me tell you, most people can’t do. And you know why? Because we are so used to getting things at the damn store for so little.

Clothing is one of the best examples of how nothing reflects it’s true cost. Making clothing is not simple. Pajamas, maybe, are simple, but just you try putting together a lined fitted suit jacket. Go ahead. I’ll sit here and laugh. But pay me fairly for putting it together? Ha. Not when you can get it on sale at Marshalls for $20.

This absolutely baffles me, and I can only sit and puzzle over how almost all of the tangible professions, as I think of them (ie sewing, making things with wood, building houses, fixing pipes, farming, that sort of thing), pay less than the jobs where, as far as I can tell, people stand around their offices all day with those fake golf hole things they have, practicing their putting. I’m sure this is not really the case. I’m sure CEOs actually do lots of what they would call work. They probably sign a lot of things. Do some brainstorming. Whatever. But let’s stick them out in a hot field for 8 hours of weeding and see what happens.

The frustrating part of all of this, of course, is that we pay people a lot of money to do completely pointless things. All the while, really important things don’t happen. This goes back to the whole “we need more farmers” thing. We need more everything. We need more people who can make furniture by hand. We need more people who can sew and understand how clothing works. We need a ton more people who know how to make tools and simple machinery (water wheels, for example). Otherwise we are going to be stuck this way until everything goes to hell in a handbasket. We need real survival skills, and we need them now.

There are a few sci fi books out there that posit that after the singularity (or after nanotech takes over, whatever), when making things by hand becomes 100% obsolete, hand made objects will suddenly become the most valuable thing of all, because they will be so hard to come by. I wish that were the case now. Not the singularity part, the part where people valued hand made objects. I might be rich. And our economy may not be on the verge of complete collapse.


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But what if we…

Well, if you are reading this, you paid attention and realized that I would still be posting even though I, at this moment (that you are reading, not the moment I am writing), am in Georgia. Celebrating my birthday with lots of delicious food. Because I am in Georgia, the home of what would have been my alma mater if I hadn’t dropped out, I am going to switch things up a bit this week and not talk about food at all, but about the other thing I spend all my time doing, which is sewing. I sew for money, mostly, making costumes for the Renaissance Festival (faire), which, if you want to talk about largely pointless things, is a great example. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it, but I do sit there a lot and think, wow, there are an awful lot of resources going into this so we can all have a good time and dress up in elaborate costumes and drink. (Which is why I have little ground to stand on when I criticize people who like watching professional sports- which I think is the biggest waste of time and resources in the world, and really, I’m not far wrong, because by comparison the Renaissance Festival is just a drop in the bucket. No jumbotrons. But anyway.)

There is an aspect to faire that has some redeeming value, and I’m sure I’ll be talking about this a lot more once the season gets going. I, by virtue of the fact that I research how to make period clothing, know a lot more about how to make things than most people. And I’m not the only one. There are people there who are preserving the techniques of making weapons by hand. And tools. And baskets, and pottery, and all kinds of things that are pretty damn useful in every day life that we are so used to getting from the store that it will be lucky if anyone survives, after the collapse. But fortunately you have all these crazy people who at least have some basic hand skills that might allow us to get through.

It’s not that faire people are entirely equipped for survival. We’re all used to doing things industrially. I have a hard time imagining making clothes without my sewing machines (which I collect- I have four. Well six, but I’m giving two away). But the good thing is I have a pretty good idea how to do it. I think about it a lot, while I’m running seams in about a minute on my machine. If I was sewing this thing by hand, it would probably take hours. And then more hours. Not to mention all the hours it would have taken someone to weave the cloth and spin the thread and make the needles (and scissors?) in the first place.

This is where I start thinking things like, well, can’t I keep my sewing machine? I mean, seriously, some machines are not in the slightest bit labor saving. Or they are, maybe, but you use them so little and you could so easily do the same thing by hand that they aren’t worth the materials it took to make the gadget in the first place. But a sewing machine. I can’t even imagine my life without a sewing machine, really I can’t. And for me, that’s saying something.

I suppose the answer to this question is just that everyone would have a lot less clothing. That’s how it was for centuries, after all. And clothing would be an awful lot simpler. It wouldn’t be such a big deal, I’m sure, especially because one person would not be putting out the volume of clothing that I can produce with my machine. Lots more people would be sewing. A lot of the time. And really, when it comes down to it, sewing machines are not worth the price that comes with them, ie industrial civilization. For me to have a sewing machine, even if I had a foot powered one (which I want very badly), the thing had to be built, and they usually have a lot of metal parts, and that requires mining, and the existence of mining is usually enough to put a stop to pretty much all of my but what if we kept this fantasies. The short answer is that if I want the planet to survive in a form that is still habitable for humans (and I really do) there will be no more sewing machines after the collapse.

And then I lie in bed at night, feeling my arm throbbing from my carpal tunnel, which is aggravated by hand sewing, and I think: if we have a collapse, I am so building some kind of wind powered generator out of bike parts so I can keep my sewing machine.

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