Seam Allowance Profile: Bill Jones

Posted by Kristine Vejar on January 29, 2013 1 Comment

Since starting Seam Allowance last July, I've wanted to highlight garment makers local to the shop and beyond. Life has been moving at a fast pace, though I am happy to finally post this great interview of Bill Jones by fellow Seam Allowancer, Linda V. I hope you enjoy this interview and are inspired by the creative and productive life of Bill Jones. 

If you would like to provide a personal essay for the Seam Allowance blog, or have someone you would like to interview who has either taken the pledge or is an innate creator and inspiration to those of us who have taken the pledge, get in touch. 

-- Kristine 

----------------------------------------------------

You may know him from the Seam Allowance Ravelry Group as the friendly guy wearing a plaid shirt in his Ravatar. And, if you are a regular in the group, you've more than likely benefited when he's shared some of the tips and tricks he's garnered from a lifetime of sewing, knitting and crafting. His name is Bill Jones, and he is the first in a series of Seam Allowance members who will be profiled here. We hope these profiles help those of us attending Seam Allowance in person get to know each other better, and help make those participating from afar feel more a part of the group.

 

Born and raised on the east coast, with an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from Arizona State and an MFA in Interior Design from Ball State University in Indiana, Bill eventually settled in San Francisco. His adventures in the City by the Bay include 25 years teaching Theater Design at San Francisco State University; being an early member of the San Francisco Bay Area Puppeteers Guild; making costumes and the hair that holds those fabulous hats for Beach Blanket Babylon, a San Francisco institution; acting as principal make-up artist for the San Francisco Opera, where he is currently doing make-up for the tattooed Queequeg in their production of Moby Dick; and collaborating with Frank Oz of the Muppets. Not surprisingly, his Ravelry profile lists "glitz" as one of his favorite colors.

Bill is self-taught in both sewing and knitting. He taught himself to sew as a child when he became interested in puppetry. The first clothing items he sewed for a non-puppet were western shirts for his twin brother. His brother is in some ways responsible for Bill's life in craft. When they were children and it was time to go to kindergarten for the first time, Bill didn't want to go. He insisted on staying home, while his brother went off to school. When his twin came home with a wooden toy boat that he had made in class, Bill changed his mind about the whole school thing. He wanted to make a boat too! The rest, as they say, is history.

In addition to making clothing for himself, as a young man Bill sewed his future wife's wedding dress, then made his daughter's wedding gown when she married, and now sews and knits clothes for his grandchildren. His favorite self-made garment is his tuxedo coat, which he designed with reference to vintage fashions. Bill says that he "tends to think three-dimensionally," so he usually designs his own sewing patterns as he finds the process intuitive.

Bill took up knitting again after a long hiatus when his grandchildren came along. Among his efforts is this adorable stranded colorwork sweater-in-progress.



In addition to the tux and a variety of vests he has made to go with it, Bill also makes many of his own shirts, often embellished, such as this shirt appliqued with quilting cottons. This is good inspiration for using all of those lovely cottons you've been eyeing at Verb!



One of the reasons Bill makes his own clothes is that he can't find what he wants in stores. Sound familiar? Here is a leather vest he made, appliqued in suede. Definitely not off-the-rack.



Those who saw his cabled black silk tuxedo vest at show-and-tell recently know that Bill doesn't hesitate to mix knitting with sewing. He has developed a technique for stabilizing hand-knit fabric so that it can be cut and sewn like (and with) woven cloth. The technique enables the knitter to make rectangles of fabric in the desired stitch or colorwork pattern without worrying about shaping. The fabric can then be cut to whatever shape is desired and sewn together. Here is a teddy bear he made using this method.



Bill will be teaching this technique, which can also be used to stabilize steeks, buttonholes and zippers, at the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat in February. It promises to be a fabulous class. As one who has benefitted from his wisdom, I can say with absolute confidence that those 25 years at San Francisco State were good practice—Bill is a great teacher!

---------------

LindaV is a knitter, crocheter and seamstress, and a member of Seam Allowance. She blogs at LindaVSpoke.blogspot.com. You can find her on Ravelry here.

Read More

The Seam Allowance Kick-Off Party and a Progress Report

Posted by Kristine Vejar on June 29, 2012 5 Comments

Have you heard? Tomorrow is the big Seam Allowance Kick-Off Party! Saturday, June 30, 3-6pm

Just a note before I jump into what this party includes. Everyone is welcome to come to this party. You need not pledge 25% or anything of the such. This is an open house and we would like anyone who is interested in knitting and sewing, and would like to meet or teachers and mentors, to come. 

Ok, now that I got that off my chest, let's talk about all of the exciting people at the party and what the event will look like. 

  • Julie Weisenberger, founder of Cocoknits, will be at the party with her full trunk show of beautiful hand-knit samples. Julie is wonderfully warm and funny. She is great at matching you with your next favorite knit. Julie teaches a monthly KAL at Verb and a sweater intensive. Her designs are wearable, stylish, and fun to knit.
  • Sonya Phillip, founder of 100 Acts of Sewing; Sonya, an artist and maker, has turned her sights on sewing. Since January, when she learned to draft her own patterns from Cal Patch, she has sewn 40 dresses is well on her way to her goal of 100 by year's end. Sonya will have her dresses with her on display. She is teaching a class at Verb, 100 Acts of Sewing: Make Your Own Dress. This is a refreshing change from overly-complicated sewing patterns. Sonya's pattern is simple and to the point. You will have a new dress in about 4 hours.
  • Jessie Inglis, Verb's Lead Sewing Expert and Teacher, will be available to answer any questions you may have about sewing labs and classes at Verb. Jessie has sewn a number of the beautiful samples you've seen at Verb using the Colette and Megan Nielsen patterns. These samples are a invaluable resource for the shop. They provide a visual for cut, fit, and detail. They give the viewer a better idea of what size to sew. And by sewing the patterns, Jessie has a great sense of the process and skill necessary to complete the pattern. 
  • Kristine Vejar (that's me!), founder of A Verb for Keeping Warm and Seam Allowance; I will be on hand to answer any questions related to, well anything in the shop really, but Seam Allowance in particular. I've been studying the work of Natalie Chanin, founder of Alabama Chanin. I will be showing my current pieces within what I call the Chanin genre: the combination of stenciling, appliqueing, and stitching. I will demonstrate the stenciling process. I am in the process of designing a Chanin based class which hopefully will be ready and scheduled by tomorrow!

We are very excited and thinking of ways to make the event extra fun. Such as giving those who have already signed-up the much anticipated *fancy* membership cards. ;) 

-------------------------------------------------

Ok, now a progress report on my own work towards 25%. 

As I mentioned in the previous post, I've been intrigued by Project 333 and re-imagining my wardrobe. After that post, I headed over to my closet and started the process of going through my clothing. My closet is filled with business casual. For those of you who see me on a regular basis, I doubt you'd describe my style as business casual. You're much more likely to see me in jeans and tee-shirt, typically the color black, since I am dyeing all day, and get everything stained. So what's up with the business casual? 

This wardrobe is a remnant of my previous life, pre-Verb. I have kept these clothes because I imagine a scene where Verb is not working out, and I have to go back to work, and will not have the money to purchase new clothing. But then there's the fact that as I am getting older my body is changing i.e. gaining weight, so now these clothes don't even fit me. Somehow, I really doubt that if Verb were not to work out, that I would l be in the mood to lose weight, to then fit into clothing that I really don't want to wear. Right? So, I donated all of it! 6 bags. It was so cathartic to release this past life and to move forward. Living in the now! And now, i don't dread walking towards my closet and I can actually put my clothing away and see what I have to wear. 

Another part of the exercise was to put a few pieces aside in which I like the cut, as I plan to copy these pieces and to knit and sew them. For instance, I have a shawl collared cardigan from J.Crew that I adore and I wore to pieces, and it's a little small. So I have been re-organizing my queue on Ravelry, prioritizing patterns that could replace that much loved cardigan. Plus, I can measure the J.Crew cardigan, add a couple inches of ease, and know which size of the pattern to knit. Easy! 

While my closet is clean, tidy, and full of potential, it is certainly not down to 33 pieces. I am ok with that for the moment. At this point, I feel like enough progress has been made for this week. This is a process and it's going to take time. I have a year to do this. 


For now, I will leave you with this image of me stenciling a new Chanin-esque dress. I already know which black dress it will replace in my closet. 

 I hope to see you tomorrow! 

--Kristine

Read More

Why I Started Seam Allowance.

Posted by Kristine Vejar on June 14, 2012 7 Comments


 

I started sewing when I was 6, the Summer before heading to 1st Grade. 

My Mom had a lot on her hands, trying to take care of my brother with cerebral palsy. My Father busy at work. I was sent to stay with my Grandparents 8 hours away, in the small town of Sterling, Illinois. When I think of my childhood, this time spent with my Grandparents has great impact. While I ran around outside like all kids, I also spent a lot of time sitting with my Grandmother and her close group of friends. They were busy knitting, sewing, and eating coffee cake. 

Soon enough, as my curiosity grew, my Grandmother started helping me make my first quilt. She allowed me to choose fabric (pink). She helped me make a square cardboard template to trace the pieces, and how to sew each square together, by hand. From here, I learned how to use the machine. One of my first projects, a heart-shaped pin cushion, embellished with lace, made for my Grandmother, of course. As my time with my Grandparents progressed, soon enough, I knew all of my Grandmother's friends, visited their homes often, and was introduced to their current knitting or quilting projects. Needing to go back to Minnesota to attend school, my teary good-bye with my Grandparents was made somewhat better by the promise that I would get to return the following Summer. 

Every visit with my Grandmother meant new clothing. She would measure, cut, and sew everything from shorts and dresses to nightgowns. I loved the undivided attention, even if it was just for 10 minutes of measuring, or checking a hem. As the years progressed, I acquired more sewing and knitting skills from my Grandma and her friends. Until finally, as I became a temperamental pre-teen, I put my foot down and wanted to spend my Summers in Minnesota with friends my own age. 

I left the Midwest for California in 1996. Fresh out of high school, to attend Mills College. California opened my eyes to politics in consumerism. The importance and impact of putting your money where your mouth is and actually having the infrastructure of small businesses and locally owned shops to be able to do that. Where I was raised in Minnesota, that was virtually impossible by the time I had my own money to spend, nearly everything was a chain or big-box store.  As I studied socio-political environments around the world in combination with Art and Art History, I wanted to travel, and to see for myself the people and the culture outside the U.S. I attended school in India and it blew my mind. So much of life was held outdoors. Walking down the street, textiles and the process of making them were everywhere. Everything from a woman, sitting on her stoop, embroidering a blouse to a professional weaver, using the length of the block, to walk out his warp. 

Up until this point, the creation of textiles was always conveyed to me as a privilege of time and money, as decorative, women's work, frivolous (you could just buy that), and a way to act like one is making something useful when really it just provides a space to gossip. You know, stitch and bitch, indicating that really there are much more important things one could be doing. As part of my program, I was required to do an independent research project. When I expressed my desire to look at textiles more closely, and meet those who dedicate at least 50% of their life to them, my teachers took me seriously. Up until this point, I had never considered the possibility of textiles academically. 

I traveled to a remote part of Gujarat, known as The Great Rann of Kutch, where multiple communities of people each have their own definitive style of motifs, expressed through embroidery and sometimes the combination of embroidery with applique. I focused upon the Rabari, a group of nomadic herders. They spend over 50% of their time either embellishing their own clothing or working for NGOs (non-government organizations), embroidering and appliqueing their body of motifs onto sell-able goods such as bags and blankets. Sure embroidery and applique might help the life span of a garment and durability, though really the point of my work was to study how textiles function as the glue which holds communities together. Joining the group of stitchers meant learning new information as to what was happening in the village, who was sick, how they got better, who was getting married, who was the new wife in the village. Stitching gave them something in common. And stitching created community. This felt very similar to my Grandmother and her group of friends. I found, as I sat to stitch with the women, and having very little language skills, the ability to stitch together resonated within us all. 

A year later, I returned to India on a Fulbright grant to continue my research of textiles and community in the Great Rann of Kutch. During the time I was away, a large earthquake occurred devastating the area. More than ever, community and finances were under great duress. I began to see more of the remote communities, who once stitched mainly for themselves begin to sew more for the NGOs. And since I was there longer, I widened my research to include those who worked solely for the textile industry dyeing, weaving, and farming. It became harder for me to research there, seeing the great disparity between opportunity, livelihood, income, and health. It was hard for me to grasp how there could be such a difference between people. Why would some need so much and some have so little. I know this could sound naive or contrived, but living it, and seeing it on a daily basis goes beyond theory or speculation, to needing to act and to change the existing paradigm of textiles, how they are valued, and bring into perspective the lives of those that currently make 90% of our textiles and our clothing.

Upon returning to the U.S., I decided to pursue textiles academically. I wanted to work towards a PhD. As my background was in Art History, this was the course I wanted to continue. I came to learn that this in fact was going to be difficult since textiles are not considered a form of Art. I was directed to Anthropology, a discipline I always found as the Study of Others, when I wanted to study Me, You, and Everyone We Know or Want to Know. I tried to find a program in Textiles, and with few exceptions, came up empty handed. Apparently, since a PhD is to show how great you are at researching, and there are few books considered academic and related to textiles, people found it hard to grasp how a PhD in Textiles could be accomplished. Catch 22, no? So it seemed that going to school wasn't a good fit. Looking back, and stating the obvious, doesn't the fact that nearly everyone in the world needs to wear clothing as a protective measure, that we use textiles as a way to communicate our values and idea of beauty, and that the clothing industry just so happens to be one of the core economic institutions in the world, warrant the study of textiles academically? I think so and hope to see things change. 

I decided to try my ideas out in the big world. I started Verb. I developed a pattern for knitting bags and sewing them. Inside there were pockets for knitting needles and notions, and a separate area, like a built in project bag, for your knitting. I found out the obvious, sewing is time consuming and in production, can be tedious. I also learned that for the cost I needed to charge for the bags would be above the value the market had for them. In the meantime, I learned to spin, and began to make handspun, knit accessories. They sold at high-end boutiques, known for their choice of hand-made objects, like Erica Tanov. While they were well received, I had a hard time relating to the market at which could afford these objects. And the process was somewhat void of life.

I decided to get in touch with a part of my life left behind in India, dyeing. And I decided to create hand-dyed yarn. And the world opened, the heavens poured forth, ok, no they didn't, but it was pretty amazing. Ravelry had started a few months earlier. Friends were easily found. Projects landed on the needles and off the needles. Released were patterns of beautiful, contemporary styles. Tech-edit became a commonly used phrase. This is still going on five years later. I found and still find the process of creating raw materials and selling them to be interactive and fulfilling. That in some ways my customers and I collaborate on a daily basis. Their skills combined with materials I have dyed.

So Verb grew, we decided to move our little dye studio and shop in Berkeley to a space in Oakland 10x larger, and I decided to add fabric to our selection. It seemed normal. Sew a dress, knit a sweater. Expand our classes to include sewing. 

About a year into having our new space, the Occupy Movement began and was gaining momentum. In Oakland, this has been a very big deal. What I took from the Occupy Movement was the idea or fact that people want to take control back from large corporations and have more control over their lives. In this area, we have spent so much time (well spent) in taking back food and alcohol from major corporations and factory farms. We spend a large amount of our income on food, both from the market and at restaurants. From making food a priority, we have more quality ingredients to choose from, more varieties, more price points, more people employed who are creative and skilled, more types of business models, and all of these things make this area culturally and economically very interesting. 

I dream of people taking textiles as seriously as they do food; the process of making them, of who is making them, and the materials used to make them. For one moment, just think about how much you might spend on a dinner. In this area, if you are eating in a restaurant which sources ingredients locally, and has trained chefs, dinner per person can easily cost $50. Now think of the shirt you are wearing, and how much you paid for it, and where it was made. How many miles did the shirt have to travel to reach you? How many people laid hands on your shirt before it reached you. The person who designed it, and the people who employ that designer, the farmer(s) who grew the material, most likely cotton (in India), the people who gather the material and ship it, the people who receive the material (in China, Vietnam, etc) the people who clean it and process it into yarn, then the person who dyes the yarn, the people who run the machines to knit it or weave it, the factory owner who also must make money on the creation and sale of the fabric, then there are those who sew the shirt, the inspectors to make sure the shirt has been made properly, those that pack the shirt to ship, those that receive it stateside, distribute it, another person to receive it at the shop, display it, sell it. 

For many of us, I would venture to say the shirt you are wearing cost somewhere between $20 and $50. When I think about all of the people who have had a part in the process of making a shirt in this price range, I can't understand how this shirt is sold for $20-50. In general, I've found most people accept that dinner can cost $20-50, which is one meal, come and gone, but hold less value for an object which can be used over and over again. When I refer to value, I am referring to the fact of how much someone is willing to pay for something.

I started talking to people who frequent the shop about these ideas and observations. I began to think of ways to further the conversation. Seam Allowance was born.

I am coming to Seam Allowance for the following reasons: 

I don't have a lot of money to spend on clothing but want to know it is being made ethically. So have decided to take the labor part out of the equation and make more of my clothing myself.

The act of making clothing connects me to my Grandmother and to her friends as well as to the women I worked with in India, and the men and women I work with currently in my shop and studio. I like the commonality we share.

I enjoy making things using my hands that employ form and function. Clothing keeps me warm (or in the instance of this week's heat wave, cool), and is a way for me to express what types of colors, textures, and shapes I find interesting and beautiful. 

Choosing colors and textures in the forms of yarn and fabric makes me happy. 

I like being reminded of the hard work and labor that goes into making a piece of clothing and to have an appreciation for that article of clothing whether I made it or not. 

I would like to support large corporations less and making my own clothing will help me do that.

I like knowing that what I make is of high quality and will last. 

I find that the goal of making 25% of my clothing is possible.

I find this work worthwhile, important, and a good use of my time.

I hope that by sewing and knitting more of my own clothing, and choosing materials I believe to be made ethically, that similar to the food movement, more people will join me. And, in turn, similar to the food movement, we will have more locally sourced raw materials available to us, in the form of fiber, dyes, yarn, and fabric. And that there will be more people employed in such lines of work. And that we would have a thriving economy and culture surrounding the production of textiles and clothing. 

Next up on the agenda: figuring out where to start with my 25% and creating goals.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing about others reasons for making their own clothing and for joining Seam Allowance. If you would like to read more about Seam Allowance, click here.

-- Kristine

P.S. Just today, a great interview covering topics similar to these was posted to salon.com. I recommend reading it.


 


 



Read More

Seam Allowance: Pledge to Make 25% of Your Clothing

Posted by Kristine Vejar on June 11, 2012 3 Comments


 

Welcome to the new Seam Allowance Blog! 

This is the first post, so it should be big, important, newsworthy, right? In other words, perfect. Funny enough, this is similar to the feeling I can encounter when beginning a new project; cutting pattern pieces, cutting cloth, choosing yarn, or casting-on for a sweater. Questions run through my head. Have I cut the right size, is this the right fabric for the project, is my gauge correct? These are exactly the questions and the desire to help with apprehension in the creative process that has led me to create A Verb for Keeping Warm, a space, which employs excellent teachers who can help with your confidence, choice of materials, and technique. 

Seam Allowance is the next chapter, it is the community, peer-to-peer part of the equation. Taking the pledge of making (at least) 25% of our clothing is what connects us as like-minds. Seam Allowance is where give and receive feedback and support about the process of making clothing, as well as share resources which could include anything from a list of influential websites to tools. 

At Verb, we are continuing to evolve our studio space to accommodate members of Seam Allowance and their creative goals. We have two, new sewing machines which can be rented by the hour.  We are exploring how we can add the dye studio to the equation. And Seam Allowance members receive special discounts on Verb materials.

One of the things I adore about Seam Allowance is the myriad of reasons why each member is coming to take the pledge. Through this blog, we will explore those reasons through publishing the interviews of Seam Allowance members. I'm also curious as to the process and evolution each member will go through when making their own clothing. How far will some members take this? I envision people going beyond the 25% to 50% or maybe even 75%. I imagine that members will explore more deeply the materials they use and expand the process to include weaving, dyeing, and other forms of surface design. I think people will develop patterns that they love and will fit them well. Maybe we'll even see some members combine knitting and sewing into a single piece! Knowing some of the members, I expect we will see some amazing explorations and results.

Then there are my own goals and aspirations. Even though I own Verb, and have worked diligently for the past 15 years to understand cloth, I still have a world of knowledge to explore. I will use this blog to share my goals and intentions towards making my 25% and to give insight to my progress and process. 

Memberships to Seam Allowance are currently open. I hope you will join us!

-- Kristine

Read More