Seam Allowance: Update and Invitation

Good god! It has been crazy in the Verb studio. The Modern Natural Dyer comes out October 20th. We leave for NY on the 15th. Nearly every minute is scheduled up until I leave. There is series of exciting new products we are making and are hoping to announce next week. Let's just say this - it is going to make using The Modern Natural Dyer a whole lot easier - so stay tuned!

All of this said, I am going to pause for a moment in book-release land to talk about something very close to my heart and reason of being. Slow Fashion. Every decision I make at Verb, I consider and weigh its social and ecological impact. Exciting news. Karen Templar over at Fringe Association has begun Slow Fashion October. Where each week she poses a series of questions and discusses various themes associated with slow fashion and a handmade wardrobe. It is very exciting to see so many people drawn to this subject and talking about it. 

So here are a few thoughts I have on slow fashion. I consider slow fashion to be clothing and shoes made by anyone and everyone working to create a more fair environment when manufacturing clothing. It can be easy to judge - to think that one person is doing a better job than another - but really, all steps towards a fair(er), more conscious, labor and ecological environment matter. This is a progression. It is alive without easy answers. It is a movement towards the mind's eye.

Four year ago, I started Seam Allowance. I wanted to create a handmade wardrobe. And I took the pledge to wear at least 25% handmade on a daily basis. I think of an outfit as a top, bottom, socks, and shoes. So 25% would be any one of these things. I invited others to join me. We meet the second Sunday of every month to discuss and to show what we have made, are making, and want to make. We share tips and tricks. Ask each others advice. It has been amazing to watch members of the group create and wear handmade. There are members of Seam Allowance who have gone from barely knowing how to sew, don't know how to knit, to making their own dresses and sweaters - which fit. I find it incredibly inspiring and remarkable. Some members now wear 75% on a near daily basis - shoes are that last remaining 25%. That's a pretty tricky one to get around - however, the members of Seam Allowance are so devoted, I imagine that resolving itself in the near future...I have a teacher in mind.

I learned to sew and knit as a child from my Grandmother. She lives in rural Illinois and many of the social activities revolved around these two activities. I was more than happy to sit around a table with my Grandma and her friends, eating homemade coffee cake, learning to stitch and listening to conversations about stitching. It was like having 10 grandmas. Many of them have now passed, including my Grandmother. I think of them on a daily basis. And give them credit to my desire to re-create this scenario in a slightly different fashion here at Verb. Wish they could be at my book party - or at a Seam Allowance meeting!

Things shifted for me quite a bit when I traveled to India. I went there to study Art and Architecture but ended up working with a group of nomadic herders named Rabari, and who add exquisite embroidery to their clothing, and applique to their quilts and camel covers. The Rabari's embroidery and applique takes the form of motifs which symbolize objects, ideas, and attributes which they find powerful and important. They taught me to really look at cloth and clothing. To think what it can communicate and what it does communicate. I went back to California upon completing my semester. And poured all of my waking moments into learning about textiles. Upon very good advice from the director of the Mills Art Museum, I learned to weave instead of taking a job at Christie's Auction House. I worked at a well known, now closed, fabric shop and began making my own wardrobe. I worked at the Textile Museum in Washington DC, documenting their Indian textile collection, relishing in the work for sure, but also wanting to learn about what it is like to look at textiles from a museum / academic perspective; beautiful, important, but I desired a more hands-on, grassroots approach.

I returned to India on a Fulbright grant to continue my work with the Rabari. And I did, but I also poked around - a lot - with the sole of intention of seeing how people made textiles. Looking at everything from large scale manufacturing to cottage industry. Meeting people and hearing their stories. Without getting into the nitty gritty to much, because there is a lot of grit, it changed my life. I decided that I would, for as far into the future as I could see, work in textiles, and work to even out the playing field. If you would like to see a first hand account of what manufacturing textiles looks like, and what people's lives look like who create most of the fabric and clothing available to us, and to see the farmers lives who grow the materials which make our clothing, there is a documentary titled The True Cost. Grab a glass of wine, it is on netflix.

At Verb, we try to teach as many people as possible to knit and sew, with the hope that it might change their lives as it has for those of us who work at Verb. Perhaps they too will see their clothing in a new way and want to create their own wardrobe.

Materials, I am obsessed with materials, makes sense that I would own a yarn and fabric shop. My obsession lies in sourcing materials where I can follow the supply chain. I want to know who is making the materials we offer at Verb and where they are sourcing the fibers. I want to know how socially and ecologically sound the practices are which create these materials. Just like when I was little, sitting around the table with my Grandma and her friends, I like a story. I like to meet people and learn about their journey. I actually enjoy hearing about problems and I like the process of problem-solving. There's a lot of problems and problem-solving when it comes to meeting those who are invested in either growing their own materials like wool and cotton, or sourcing these materials to make yarn or fabric. Witnessing the complexities, as overwhelming as it can be, gives me a larger frame of reference as to why we don't have access to certain materials, such as the dearth of US made fabric, and provides inspiration, motivation, and goals toward which I can work to make that change.

I might dye something with natural indigo extract. I am happy because I know that the indigo came from a plant. I can trace that. But I would like to know who the farmer is. This desire led has led us down a three year path of working towards that goal. I began to work more closely with Rebecca Burgess at Fibershed, who grows indigo, helped to build an indigo composting floor, learned to make a fermentation vat based upon the traditional style of Japanese indigo vats, and now have two at the shop. We also grew indigo this year in the Capay Valley, 90 miles from Verb, and have a patch at the shop for people to see. We have learned that a lot of people don't know where indigo comes from. It's kinda fun to learn that it comes from a plant! People like plants. They are beautiful and provide oxygen! Yay plants!

Two years ago, at Verb, we hired Tasa. She went to school for pattern drafting and helped us to create our own line of sewing patterns. I wanted to create these patterns so we would have a curriculum to teach people how to sew garments - patterns we know in and out, like the back of our hand.

So when it comes to my own Seam Allowance goals - I want to make and wear handmade on a daily basis but I also want to use materials - yarn, fabric, and dye - which I can trace to the best of my ability. And am in the process of doing so. That said, for me, it is as much about supporting others who I feel are doing good work, as it is about not purchasing from those who I disagree with in terms of ethos. So I support other makers and small businesses who are working very hard to create beautiful clothing and shoes - made from natural, consciously sourced materials, in the United States. Feral Childe, See Sun, Ali Golden, Voices of Industry, and Pansy Co are just a few that come to mind. I have a beloved pair of Cobra Rock boots from Marfa, Texas. I have also been following the Palatines for some time. Clogs can be found made in the U.S. - like Sven, No. 6, and SF based Bryr. And to always remember, this is a process. I slip. I fall (ahem, nikes).

This upcoming Sunday at 5:30pm is October's Seam Allowance meeting. I would love it if you joined us.

If you are not local, perhaps you can make your own Seam Allowance group. Let me know if you do, and I will add it to our website to help spread the word.

What does slow fashion mean to you? Are there questions you have about making a handmade wardrobe? Do you make your own clothing? Or have a favorite small label? 

One more quick thing - for a moment we had a Seam Allowance blog - and then life happened, so as of today we are archiving the Seam Allowance blog, which can be accessed here, and creating a new category on the Verb blog named Seam Allowance. Hopefully, this year, we will be able to highlight a few of our Seam Allowance super stars! 


Coming up: One of the most exciting things about traveling is deciding what to make and to wear.

Pre-order The Modern Natural Dyer and receive a fun, interactive gift.

Join me on my New York book tour:
Oct 17 - 18 NY Sheep & Wool, Rhinebeck
Oct 19 Textile Arts Center, Mahattan
Oct 21 Haven's Kitchen

Party with me and the Verb crew in Oakland:
Oct 24 - A Verb for Keeping Warm