January 22, 2010

Drumming in Ghana

Kristen we love you ..... and your pants...

Check out Krisen's blog for news about her trip to Ghana...

January 17, 2010

"Instead of Dying, I Learned to Sew"

This is the opening sentence of Gioia Diliberto's "The Collection" - an historical novel about a young seamstress' journey from provincial France to Coco Chanel's atelier and the world of
couture. Her
were her

This book, my good fortune to meet Isabel Toledo and hear her discuss her craft, reading Richard Sennett's, "The Craftsman", and hearing how Sophie Theallet describes her approach to her work have led me to consider my life as a SEAMSTRESS. I sew. I love to sew and construct and problem-solve and create - but, honestly, I don't think I'm much of a designer! Probably not where my karma lies. Maybe in my next life.

So now I am focused on these women who
I admire
, whose craft is making beautiful garments, and understanding how the seamstress lives within them.

All this leads me to May Asaki. I "met" May today - in the Washington Post obituaries (yes, I read them daily). May's story is compelling - just like Isabelle Varlet's in "The Collection", and Isabel Toledo's, and Sophie Theallat's - because she is seamstress who made a life sewing beautiful garments.
Here is May's story - sadly too late for us to get to know her

An excerpt:

"Much to her relief, however, she found herself rejected by the prospective groom [after her parents tried to arranged her marriage]. His family had concluded that the slight and cultured May Asaki would not make a suitable wife for a chicken farmer.

Her mother quietly arranged for her to move to Los Angeles to attend a fashion and dressmaking school. May Asaki had been sewing for most of her life and designed her first dress, for a younger sister, when she was 12. In high school, she made clothes for her teachers.

Decades later [following internments during WWII], her skills as a seamstress would launch her on a globetrotting career with some of the greatest ballet stars in the world...."


Toledo designs clothes that are structured, even architectural, and sometimes (as she says) "rather severe-a lot of black and strong shapes." She has always started with a shape, usually a circle or a curved line: a circle skirt, a curved bra, a flared apron overskirt, the sweeping arc of a coat. "I'm not a fashion designer," insists Toledo. "I'm a seamstress. I really love the technique of sewing more than anything else." She believes it is crucial to know fashion from the inside: through cutting, draping, pattern making, and sewing. Among the designers she admires are women like Madeleine Vionnet and Madame Gres, who also worked in three dimensions rather than from a flat sketch. Toledo sees definite advantages in being a woman designer, because they experience the way the clothing feels. Men, she believes, tend to be more "decorators of clothing."

Isabel Toledo on her love of sewing (1989):

"I really love the technique of sewing more than anything else…the seamstress is the one who knows fashion from the inside! That's the art form really, not fashion design, but the technique of how it's done."

On the inside of the clothes: It’s really important because when a woman takes off her dress you can see how beautiful the dresses are inside. I think it’s important to see the construction of clothes and make the finishings beautiful. The people who make them are really proud of their work. What we try to do is everything I learned in the studio of Mr. Alaïa. I really want to open a little shop with an atelier in the back with my two seamstresses whom I really respect because without them I cannot survive. They are so proud and I think it’s the team that’s very important.

Describing her style as “classical with French know how and polish,” Théallet’s designs are made in a little factory in New York...... Theallet’s seamstresses work like Parisian ones (read: flawless pleats, tiers, pin tucks notable for their finish). With two extremely well-reviewed collections behind her, Théallet remains obsessed with cut and fit. “Being a female designer, I know how some women don’t want to show their arms, others want to distract from their knees or like to accentuate their waist.”

So, I will spend 2010 searching out seamstresses - the famous and the-not-so. Who are your seamstress heroines and/or heroes??? Are you a seamstress or a designer?



January 15, 2010

Please Keep Haiti In Your Hearts and Head

The Grina/Lee's have many friends in Haiti and we are hoping that they are all well and safe. We have friends who have died and others who have lost everything! Please think of them often and keep them in your hearts! The health care needs of Haiti, baseline, are staggering - but a tragedy of this magnitude is beyond comprehension! Please consider making a modest donation to Partners in Health. Paul Farmer's PIH has been in Haiti for years and is one of the few healthcare delivery organizations that are still standing after the earthquake - so donations to them can be used immediately to provide care in light of the destruction of nearly all of the hospitals in Port au Prince.

Stand With Haiti

January 13, 2010

The Traveling Ghana Pants

Kristen (of Young Women's Drumming Empowerment fame) is headed to Ghana to live out a life long dream! But before she left she asked me to make her a pair of pants with some of her favorite African fabric.
Of course, I said.
So you know that there's always a catch. A rub. A fly in the ointment. She wanted me to copy her favorite pants - that happen to be a VERY well worn pair of knit cropped palazzo pants - sort of like these but in shreds!
But her African fabric is a woven cotton in very limited yardage! Perhaps you see the issue.....

So I drafted a ruboff from her well loved palazzo pants - all I had to work with was her waist, hip and inseam measurements - no real time for fitting. And, much to my complete surprise, the result was a pair of pants that she loved and, if I do say myself, fit her superbly! TOTAL LUCK!

I wish I had a photo of her in them last night as she was dancing around and packing but that will have to wait 'til either she posts some photos on her Drum Lady blog or 'til she gets back to the States!

These will have to do for now!

Although there was a side zipper, because we didn't have time for a proper fitting, I added a decorative tie on the back waistband (you can barely see it in the photo below) that allows her to make subtle adjustments to the waist of the pants.

I love a successful crisis sewing project!


January 5, 2010

It's Back!

It has been a long time! A really long time since I actually produced a garment in that sewing studio of mine. Lots of sewing lounge prototypes, some Christmas gifts (including the....snuggies - I know, I know), and costumes for the Young Women's Drumming Empowerment Project and my niece Katy.

But then came the New Year's weekend and three days without anything to do - BUT SEW! So here is the first of two (previously unfinished) garments I finished....

Go ahead - say it! "Where is your horse, Laura!" Yea, I agree - this ensemble is a bit "horse country, Middleburg set, have you met my good friend Michaele Salahi?" But, hey, the outfit is done! Who knows if I'll actually ever WEAR the pieces together - except, maybe, if we end up at the Gold Cup races again!!

The cape pattern was based loosely on New Look 6833 and the skirt pattern is from a pattern I drafted a long long time ago.
I constructed the skirt using the couture techniques that Susan Khalje shared with us this summer. Hand-picked zipper, underlined with silk organza, wide seams, hand stitching everywhere! Took forever but I love how it looks and FEELS! Gone are the days of whipping up a skirt in an hour!!! I am forever a slave to "crack couture"!

Closure from my trip to Norway to see the relatives!

Detail of the slit for the belt

Voila... (or, perhaps, Hi Ho Silver!!)

And here is a preview of the other garment from last weekend......
Stay tuned!!

(Now if I could conjure up enough nerve to tackle my NYC Sit and Sew dress!?)

Thanks for listenin'