Process, Progress, and Alabama Chanin

Posted by Kristine Vejar on September 23, 2012 13 Comments

In January of 2012, I told the staff at Verb that I wanted to take off 2 weeks in August. I hoped that by stating it out loud, that I would listen to myself, and really take a vacation. I hadn't taken a vacation in over 8 years. Also, by stating this out loud, I made the commitment to delegate tasks in the shop to the Verb staff. This has been a particular point of work for me. And something I needed desperately to do in order to help free my creativity, 

As the months went on, we created more infrastructure at Verb, and the staff did take on more portions of my job. In turn, I've been able to spend more time dyeing and learning new types of technique. In April, we had a surprise visit from Natalie Chanin, founder and creative director of Alabama Chanin. I have been a long time admirer of Natalie and her work, so was thrilled to meet her. 

One of my favorite things about Natalie is the way that she looks at materials. Her way of being present. And her way of taking the materials in her immediate surroundings and thinking of how she could incorporate them into her work. As she meandered through the shop, she would pick up a skein of yarn, and ponder out loud as to how it would look stitched with a couching stitch upon the face of the fabric. To me, it read as a way to carry your current experience, and the materials you have access to, the story of those materials, along the face of a cloth, that will then be part of a garment, and therefore you would carry along memories or stories, even people along with you. Funny enough, this theme is similar to my research in India. I studied and documented the appliqued and embroidered motifs of the Rabari, a semi-nomadic group, living in Kutch Gujarat. They have a body of motifs that they use to communicate to others and one another that they are Rabari. And these motifs are comprised of objects in their everyday life; peacocks, a person carrying water, a camel, and so forth. 

Deeply inspired by Natalie's visit, I immersed myself in her body of techniques; stenciling, painting, stitching, and appliqueing. Again, my work in India, this time in the form of technique, applique, was useful to these pieces. The fact that my work in India applied has been a huge impetus. While I have incorporated the dyeing portion of my research in India to my work in the US, I have yet to find a place for my work with the Rabari. Really, it has been shelved, quite literally, sitting on a book shelf, for 10 years. So to take that piece of my life, which has been so meaningful in terms of how I see the world, and to re-invent it has been incredibly rewarding.

 

 

We ordered the organic cotton jersey Natalie uses in her studio. She has created her own line of jersey. 100% U.S. made and organic. It fits my ideal for what we would stock in the shop. I decided to take 2 yards of white jersey, knowing that I would use it to make a Chanin-esque piece, though not really sure of in which piece or with what stencil, and indigo dyed it; a very light shade of blue, and a medium blue. 

 

While studying Natalie's work, and using her stencils, I began to think about designing my own stencil. I explored ideas using geometric motifs. One night, in July, I was at dinner, and in the garden, there was a banksia with wonderful jagged, triangular shaped leaves, in one of my favorite colors, chartreuse. I snapped a photo just because I thought it was pretty. 



After a few days, and as I was preparing to leave for my long anticipated vacation, a road trip to Northern Minnesota, I found myself drawn back to that photo. It occurred to me that the banksia could make a beautiful stencil. I began to sketch a few variations. Once I found one that I thought would translate nicely to painting and applique, I scanned it into Illustrator.



I cut the stencil. 

 

Grabbed my indigo dyed jersey and went on an all night painting binge. Just in time for my trip to Minnesota. Knowing that I would want to stitch as I traveled across the country. I chose the dress pattern from Natalie's newest book, Alabama Studio + Design, due to fact that the pattern pieces were more rectangular in shape, because the motif is fairly large. Also, I painted the banksia flower motif only on the front of the dress, the back of the dress only has leaves.

This dress is composed of two layers of jersey, the top layer the medium indigo blue color, the bottom layer the lighter indigo dyed. This dress is entirely hand-sewn. Each painted motif is outlined with a running stitch. I then hand-sewed the seams, and finished them with a flat felled seam. I then cut through portion of the top layer of fabric to reveal the second layer of lighter blue indigo fabric.

I adore how easily I could transport this project, so similar to my knitting. Using my hands to sew, instead of a machine means that I can sew within a group of people. In Minnesota, as family and friends gathered for the weekend, I caught up on news and family gossip, while all the time stitching. 

 

And soon enough, the project came together, one seam after another, and I had a dress. A garment that embodies a memory of dinner spent with friends and wholesome food, of traveling with my partner and my dog, a time spent with my family in the North woods of Minnesota, thoughts of my work in India, and an extension of Natalie's work to which she has dedicated so much time, energy, and creativity.

I have a few ideas kicking around as to my next piece. Perhaps using my naturally dyed yarn as part of a garment. Or taking a motif from my road trip and creating a new stencil. Or possibly natural dyeing more of Natalie's cotton jersey. Though for the moment, I am perfectly content to relish in the memories of making it and in the comfort of wearing it.

One of my Seam Allowance goals is to incorporate creating textiles and garments into my everyday routine, similar to cooking, eating, and exercising. I have a variety of projects. I use the sewing machine to execute ideas quickly. I use hand sewing and knitting as a way to create textiles and still be able to connect with those around me and as a transportable project to be worked on while commuting to work or taking a coffee break. Using this variety of techniques keeps the process interesting and the garments. The patterns and technique of Alabama Chanin fits perfectly into this plan.

If you are interested in learning more about Alabama Chanin and Natalie Chanin, you can visit her blog and website. Read her three books, Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Or take a class based upon her techniques at Verb. We carry all three of Natalie's books, her organic cotton jersey, and embroidery floss.

I hope you find this work inspiring and that you will try making a garment utilizing these techniques.  

-- Kristine

 





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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. ;) 

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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

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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.


 


 



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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

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