Sunday, May 29, 2011

For Love of Occasion

Domesticity mystifies me.

A complete understanding of what it means is still hiding, drifting in the fog of what society wants me to believe my grandmother's life was like, obscured by fears of Martha Stewart and church lady living rooms. What are womanly arts and what do they have to do with a properly basted turkey? What is delight in ones home and how does it get properly sorted out from the starch-and-scratchy chair sneering I saw from many ladies with beautiful, if somehow hostile, homes? What is it about me that goes all giddy when I look at my freshly made bed, covered in a quilt my great-grandmother sewed by hand fifty years ago? Or when I lay down at the end of a day to see the hushed light of my hanging lamp warm the purple and lavender of my walls? Why does this speak to my soul? The quilt is just old cotton, second-hand even when it was sewn. The lamp and the walls are just wire and plaster, paint and light. What causes such distinct and domestic satisfaction in a well-planned room?

I don't have an answer.
But I think my four year old does.

She hasn't had enough years to absorb, through whatever terrible osmosis, all of the domestic shame we as women build up in today's culture. She doesn't know that she should be liberated, or that her mommy is living a dreary and repressed life of household servitude. She doesn't know that her joys should be more sophisticated than homely pursuits, that instead of homemade jam and homemade twirl skirts she should covet five hundred dollar shoes and three hundred dollar handbags. Because she is naive, she is wise.

I watch her order her little domestic sphere, from the precise placement of beloved animals to the "decorating" of her room with scarves and ribbons and scraps of paper, I see her joy. She loves to plan, to select just the perfect treasure for the perfect spot. I watch her turn ordinary things into special occasions and I reclaim my own, still timid, love for everyday excellence. When did we as women believe that to orchestrate our homes is less worthy than orchestrating our careers? When did we stop being excited about the tiny, special things that surround us-- the breakfast plate with flowers, the lace edging of a napkin, the pleasing arrangement of a room so that it breathes peace and harmony to those who enter? I do not have to justify loving those things because they are part of who I am as a female reflection of God.

A week ago, I sat in a rocking chair outside a vintage-inspired general store, eating mint ice cream and staring at pansies. The color scheme was perfect, each petal a blend of pearly whites, blushing mauve, and deeper purple. As I looked at the other flowers-- tangerine orange against crimson red, bright yellow and white-- I realized that God is intentional about his colors. I have never seen a flower and thought oh, that doesn't match. He chose well and He chose deliberately, even though flowers are common, ordinary little things. He gave them beauty anyway. We have a love of occasion-- of detail, beauty, planned and executed well-- because He has filled a world with those domestic touches. When we fill our homes with the same, we are mimicking Him.

If you are anything like me, you're trying to understand this and all you keep thinking is the image of the 1950s Woman. You're not sure if you've ever met her or if you've just heard about her but images of plastic pearls and disturbingly red lipstick come to mind, along with mohair sweaters and a polka-dot apron tied at the waist. Her blue eyes gleam with manic energy as she tells you all she does to get her home to a waxy, gleaming, artificial beauty common to fake fruit. Every ounce of her is consumed with the tyranny of details, having the couch cushions turned just the right way, making sure the curtains are ironed once a week. Enter and admire but don't touch the good china. She obsessively pursues perfection and defines herself by the cleanliness of her carpet or the trendiness of her wall decor.

This is not the woman who understands God's domesticity.
Nor is it a woman who understands the true pleasure or love of keeping a home, of those touches that elevate the most basic elements of existence-- shelter and food and clothing-- into something special. My great grandmother, when she was sewing by hand dozens and dozens of patchwork quilts made from discarded dresses, knew the secret. My grandmother, who could make a coconut cream pie that will be served in heaven at the Lamb's supper, knew the secret. Even my daughter, when she runs to give me a handful of wildflowers-- aka weeds-- to place at the lunch table, knows the secret.

I am listening to them. I am learning. I am delighted and unashamed by it.

Image taken from a house tour featured on Parlour

Sunday, May 22, 2011

You Might Be A Terrorist If....

According to a Department of Homeland Security list, you might be a domestic terrorist if...
you exhibit the following:
* Expressions of libertarian philosophies (statements, bumper stickers)
* Second Amendment-oriented views (NRA or gun club membership, holding a CCW permit)
* Survivalist literature (fictional books such as "Patriots" and "One Second After" are mentioned by name)
* Self-sufficiency (stockpiling food, ammo, hand tools, medical supplies)
* Fear of economic collapse (buying gold and barter items)
* Religious views concerning the book of Revelation (apocalypse, anti-Christ)
* Expressed fears of Big Brother or big government
* Homeschooling
* Declarations of Constitutional rights and civil liberties
* Belief in a New World Order conspiracy

According to Those Who Know, "People engaged in the above activities or mind-set may be considered "extremists" or "militia groups" that exist in our communities and are "hiding in plain sight, ready to attack."

Quick, hide your Ron Paul bumper stickers and Left Behind series. Also please refrain from declaring your constitutional rights, religious views, distrust of government and for heaven's sake enroll your children in public school.

Nothing like a healthy dose of paranoia to wake you up in the morning.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Designer Interview: Jocole Designs

Tonight I'm happy to bring you an interview with a very talented designer-- and mom-- who is using her gifts to raise her family and make the sewing world more interesting at the same time. You've heard me reference her a few times in the Easter dress posts, so it's about time I introduced you to the lady I've been blathering on about and also time I clue you in as to why I think she's so cool.

Who she is: Jodi Jean, aka Jocole

Where you can find her
: her website, Etsy store, blog, and Facebook page

What she has to say:

Q) Tell us a little more about you and how you got started designing

A)I’ve been designing clothing since for as long as I can remember … if you go back through my notes from high school you’ll find sketches in all the margins and I have a plethora of notebooks just filled with sketches waiting to become a reality. I pursued designing in college at Brigham Young University – Idaho where I majored in fashion design. After college I worked as a patternmaker for a bathing suit manufacturer and then a modest prom dress manufacturer. Now I’m married and staying at home and taking care of my three crazy crazy kids. My pattern collection stemmed from my need to be creative while staying at home.

Q. What is your design philosophy or aesthetic? What are you hoping people will "get" when they see your work?

A) My design philosophy definitely involves easy to wear pieces that can be dressed up or worn everyday, I adore versatility. I hope people see my patterns and want to make things with them and use them over and over.

Q) What inspires you? Design? Fabric? Your adorable kids?

A) My kids definitely inspire the pattern collection – I sew for them and the clothing that I would like to see them wear.

Q) Give us a peek into your creative process. What goes into producing a new JoCole design?

A) All my patterns start with a sketch which is then hand-drafted into a full size pattern. A sample is sewn and I fit it and make changes/tweak if necessary – I make sure to take detailed pictures of each step during the sewing process to add to the sewing instructions. Back to pattern making to draft the pattern into all the different sizes. I then trace the multi-sized pattern onto my pattern grid paper. The grids are then scanned and then I use a graphics editor program to draw the crisp clean digital lines over my hand-drawn lines which are then erased. The image files are then turned into a pdf pattern. Picture editing of the step by step and model photos. I then type up the detailed sewing instructions and add LOTS and LOTS of pictures which is then turned into a pdf file. The pattern pdf and instruction pdfs are merged into one file and sent to my pattern testers who test how well the instructions are written and how well the different sizes fit. I use people who are seasoned seamstresses and novices who are just learning so I know that anyone will be able to use my patterns.

Q) And how do you do that with kids, I'd like to know....

A) Let me tell you this is probably just as hard as you would imagine. My kids are LITTLE … my son just turned 4, my daughter is 2.5 and I have a baby girl who just turned 1 (oh and I’m pregnant again with another girl, due to arrive in the beginning of July). Their playroom is right next to my studio so they play in there or in the backyard and interrupt me constantly. If I’m on the computer we’re in the living room and they are playing while I’m editing photos or typing. It’s always a little bit chaotic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way … I LOVE being able to work and be home with them. I don’t mind stopping the sewing to read a book.

Q) Your Etsy store offers everything from practical playclothes to pretty dresses-- you even remember the boys! Was this wide range of designs intentional or just a happy creative accident?

A) I definitely try to have a wide range of clothing. There are a couple boy things because I have a son and I like to make him things … but there should be more boy things but I have girls on my brain and he is outnumbered.

Q) The pattern design competition on Etsy is getting fierce. What do you think your patterns offer that sets you apart from other designers?

A) It is definitely getting fierce, when I started there was just a handful of us. I try to look and see what patterns they are offering and do something different while staying true to my design aesthetic. There are enough knot-dress patterns out there I promise you won’t see one in my shop.

Q) My personal favorite (so far) of your designs is the Circle Flounce Dress. It is simple yet lovely and surprisingly easy to make. What led you to create that specific design?

A) That is one of my favorite designs too. It actually stemmed from my daughter needing a dress but I didn’t want to fiddle with ruffles and I HATE buttonholes so it uses snap instead. I LOVE that the simple bodice can be easily fancied up with lace, ric rak or other trim and you could easily ditch the circle skirt pattern and just add a ruffle skirt.

Q) What do we have to look forward to from you for spring and summer? My girls do love a summer dress (hint hint)

A) I definitely have some new patterns up my sleeve … a pair of knit ruffle pants, a knit tank with ruffles along the neckline, adjustable suspenders and even a skirt pattern for all you lovely ladies will be coming … and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I also just launched a ready to buy custom handmade women’s clothing collection that I am absolutely in LOVE with. Cute and comfortable … you’ll look super stylish but feel like you’re still wearing your pajamas (shhhhh … I promise I won’t tell anyone)

Q) I am sure I'm not the only mama who never touched a sewing machine before she had children. What advice would you give to newbie craftistas? Which of your patterns you would recommend as a "first project" piece?

A) Practice, practice and more practice. Don’t be afraid to try new things … that’s how you learn and get better. I would actually recommend the Circle Flounce Dress, it’s the one I always recommend. Then branch out into knits (I promise you they are not as scary as everyone says … I actually prefer to sew with knits) … and I would recommend the Peasant Knit Tee and the Basic Knit Leggings … super easy but my go-to patterns for my girls.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chiffon Party Dress Mini-Tutorial

My apologies for the slight delay while I spent the majority of the last week coughing like a dying steam train. The plague has passed, so I can get down to the good stuff.
Last week, we did the great Easter dress reveal and I promised a mini-tutorial.

Before we get started, let me say that I take zero credit for the pattern design of this dress. Zilch. Nada. This tiny tutorial was made with permission of the designer, in this case the talented Jocole over on Etsy. What I'll show you here is a quick way to fancy up her design for a party or other special occasion. Be warned: I am a sewing novice and this is my first how-to. Throw those tomatoes gently.

What You'll Need
  • Pattern for a circle dress or skirt, depending on what you want to make. I used the Circle Flounce Dress by Jocole but feel free to use what you wish. For those brave enough to try a bit of drafting, Ikat Bag has a free circular skirt tutorial and Google will happily fetch you any number of free dress patterns for the bodice.
  • Lightweight fabric for bodice and skirt lining, in the amount called for by pattern. I used cotton for the entire lining of the practice dress and the bodice of the Easter dresses. For the skirt lining on the Easter dresses I chose taffeta to give a little extra sheen and rustle.
  • Stretch chiffon, also called nylon tricot for skirt and/or bodice overlays, in the amount called for by pattern. Check your required yardage for your pattern's skirt and that is the amount you will need for each layer of the stretch chiffon. This fabric is different from regular chiffon and can be a bit tricky to find at local sewing stores. I found only one store in my area that carried it at all and their color selection was next to none. Most of the chiffon for my dresses came from DreamSpunKids. The array of colors she offers is amazing and the prices are reasonable.
  • Lace or ribbon for straps and sash (optional). I purchased dyed-to-match lace from DreamSpunKids to coordinate exactly with my chiffon.
  • The usual notions: thread, needle, etc. I did substitute buttons for the snaps called for in the Circle Flounce pattern, just because I hate snaps.

Step One
  • Lay out and cut fabric for bodice, skirt, lining, and overlays. At this point you will decide whether you want to overlay the bodice and the skirt or only the skirt. For the practice dress, I used a single layer of hot pink chiffon for the bodice and the skirt--

For the Easter dresses, I chose an embroidered cotton bodice and two to three layers of chiffon for the skirts.

Multiple layers of chiffon make the skirt assembly a bit trickier but it is worth it for that lovely swish when you're done.

Step Two
  • Assemble the bodice according to pattern
  • If you have chosen to use a chiffon overlay, I suggest sewing the front and back sides of the chiffon together before sewing it over the lining. According to my trial-and-error this was less likely to cause pulling or distortion during the attachment.
Step Three
  • Assemble the skirt and overlays.
  • Sew each layer of the skirt-- lining and chiffon overlays-- individually then baste the layers together at the top for ease in attaching the bodice. You will want to hem your lining but you don't have to hem the chiffon as it will not fray. I chose not to hem the chiffon for my dresses.
Step Four
  • Attach skirt to bodice.
  • If you haven't already attached the straps, do so now. Attach sash if you have decided to use one. I made mine removable using simple belt loops you can learn to do at this Whimsy Couture tutorial.
  • Try on your princess and watch her twirl!

There you have it. A few simple steps on how to transform a cute basic dress into something perfect for a summer party or church event. Thanks for tuning in!