All the work I’ve done since I started sewing is documented in this book, right on through my fashion-design program at New York Fashion Academy. Photography is (almost) all my own. If you are a friend or relation of mine, you might be in this book! Please consider supporting my work by purchasing a copy of my book as a PDF or as a beautiful, matte-textured coffee table book. Available on Blurb, click here.
i’ve never worn a medium but suddenly
all of my large does not fit quite like it used to.
coach commends me for losing weight.
asks me if i feel different. i’m not sure if i should
or if i do: what does it mean
to be a wxmxn’s medium & a men’s small
if it means anything at all. people comment
on my body.
we, wxmxn, are always bodies–
never enough. always too much.
giving and receiving. expanding
these bodies take on so much
water weight, but can never drown.
must buoy up. we, navigation marks,
showing reefs or other hazards,
keeping someone or something afloat.
devices designed to hang on water,
can be anchored or allowed to drift
with the waves of someone else’s eyes
bounced round another’s salty sea
and i wonder what would it mean
to behold the size of my ocean and
not wish she were less of a threat.
Remember when Alexander McQueen put his runway in a wind tunnel? I don’t, because it was 2003 and before I knew a single thing about fashion or Alexander McQueen, I hoped to be a teacher for the rest of my life. I was fighting through my own wind tunnel: my first year of teaching (a rather scarring experience we don’t need to dwell on).
The thing I love about this visual imagery of a woman in a wind tunnel, dreamed up in McQueen’s deviously saucy mind, was her frailty but also her fierce strength. Here was a woman who, unlike the other models who made walking look easy/graceful/sexy, is just being resisted by the world around her, and she is resisting that fate, pushing against it–and ultimately winning–making her way more slowly than others because she isn’t allowed to walk freely, she’s pushed against by an invisible force.
Was McQueen trying to tell us something? Did he know that feeling of resistance against the stream? Did he feel pushed on by invisible forces? Did he feel he had to constantly fight to get anywhere?
Lars von Trier, director of Melancholia, possibly loved McQueen’s imagery too. Is this shot from the film a direct homage? Or more subconscious? It’s a movie about deep depression, acceptance of death.
Kirsten Dunst’s character is fighting deep depression, the kind that keeps you immobile, in bed, lifeless, unable to think, speak, or bathe without crying. I know this depression. Von Trier has made the best film depiction of depression I’ve seen. In fact, the entire plot is a metaphor for depression. Another planet has been drawn into Earth’s orbit–which may sound implausible but in the film it comes off as completely possible, not at all like all those other Hollywood apocalypse movies. How would we deal with a slowly approaching, but certain death by a gorgeous planet looming above us?
Dunst, depressed as she is, is the only character capable of accepting death as a not entirely unwelcome presence, fearsome but beautiful. (SPOILER ALERT) In the end, she guides her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) towards a graceful acceptance of what is. Gainsbourg’s character has spent the entire film trying to cheer Dunst up, distract her, console her, feed her. She is helpless to help her sister. Her parents are already gone, she can’t save her son from the approaching planet, her husband is a total creepo played by Keifer Sutherland. (That guy does ‘creep’ so well.) Gainsbourg can’t win, though she insistently believes she is the one who knows how to succeed in life. In the end, she finally recognizes her younger sister’s depression as an inevitable presence, like the planet above them, a part of their lives, an undetected problem before but now alarmingly huge and overtaking. Depression, neither good nor bad, is simply a thing her beloved sister will always have.
The two planets, the two sisters, depression and anxiety, collide and join together, destroying everything. But somehow that ending feels beautiful and right.
Which brings me back to McQueen. He enjoyed destroying his gowns sometimes, showing what the weather or time would do to a garment. Look at the mud (is it mud?) clinging to Dunst’s gown. Then look at this McQueen wedding dress.
McQueen was fascinated by decay. Here’s a gorgeous gown made of lace, that looks like rust or mold or crumbling plaster. The gown itself, as a piece of clothing, barely exists; it’s more like the woman walked through some cobwebs.
I’ve been thinking about textures for my Moss collection, hoping to convey the texture and color of moss, but also lichen, and concrete, and water stains. These are the things I took pictures of, walking around my city, battling Seasonal Affective Disorder or depression or post-traumatic-stress-disorder or whatever you want to call it, fighting that wind tunnel with a camera to document. No longer a teacher and now the world was wide open before me. How utterly terrifying. Sometimes I stayed paralyzed in bed, but sometimes I got outside, and looked at all these decaying urban textures, and thought, ‘How beautiful, these slimy, dirty, torn, rusted, corroded things. I want to make something like that.”
Going to fashion-design school is a great way to quit your blog (and all personal sewing projects)! And I have no pictures. Who wants to read a blog without pictures? Nobody, that’s who. But I’m here anyway, wanting to write, wanting to process.
Fashion-design school is hard. The work itself isn’t too hard, in fact it’s the perfect amount of challenging. The hard part is what goes on inside you when you’re figuring out your next career, when you’re changing from what you thought you would always do, to something you’d never even thought of. Will my ideas make enough money to sustain the making of more ideas? I’ll have to use my best monkey traits–fortunately this is the Year of the Monkey, and if I remain humble this will be a very good time to use my intelligence and creativity for good. Time to write that business plan and get this program done (cracks knuckles).
In order to survive my first runway show, coming up fast in 128–nope, 127 days– (September 10th), I’m spending some 12-hour days at school. It’s really not much different from when I was teaching, in terms of workload. The big difference is, my job used to be interacting constantly non-stop with kids and parents and administration and colleagues–a very extroverted, people-oriented job. Now I stand at a table, earbuds in, listening to Soundcloud, pinning, cutting, tracing, taping, notching, darting, stitching. It’s just me, my hands, my eyes, and simple objects. My only human interactions are occasionally to chat with other students–but even then, we are all living under this weighty timeline, deadline…the runway show looms over us…this thing that could be a total waste of a lot of money (I’d say spending about $1000 is normal from what I informally gather from classmates who’re buying their fabric). What if the stuff I thought would look good, the stuff that looks good in my watercolor illustrations, will not in fact end up looking good on a human body? What if the neoprene I’ve chosen bunches at the crotch embarrassingly? What if the delicate fine details that are guaranteed to make my work expensive…don’t show up well on a runway? And worst: What if after all this, it looks BORING?? Boring would be worse than ugly.
“Well, what if your pants fall down?”
My family used this phrase when one of us was spinning into a panic attack. It’s a quote I carried with me as a teacher, and pulled it out to make panicking kids laugh.
“What if your pants fall down?”
I’d be embarrassed. And if the pants I’m making for this runway show literally fall off the models, I will be mortified. But it’s not the end of the world, or a career. It didn’t ruin Alexander McQueen’s career after he came up with “bumsters”.
Oh laugh at the bumsters, but they ushered in The Era of Low-Rise Pants, and Muffintops, and Victoria’s Secret thongs and G-strings intentionally showing above the waistline. (Street fashion imitates high fashion imitates street fashion.) But think about it, everybody laughed at McQueen’s bumsters. But have granny panties ever come back? McQueen obliterated the granny panty. (Except for 1940’s-style pin-up high-waisted shorts, which are super cute and I’m gonna make ’em someday in pale pink/white gingham, and blue/white, and black/white, and red/white, and ticking stripes, and seersucker). To be a designer who takes an incredible risk, takes flack for it, but then has the last laugh by completely changing the pants women wear–for an entire generation of women, even after he’s gone…that’s incredible courage and fuckoffery and that’s what made McQueen an artist and not just an ordinary designer. In my opinion, ahem.
…If getting laughed at is the worst thing in the pursuit of personal expression, so be it. And if complete financial ruin is close on the heels of embarrassment, I’ll figure something out. Why? Because I’m a Clever Monkey, and this is The Year of the Monkey. It’s my f***in year!
There is no failure in tackling a project based on “god that seems like it would be such a thrill” and finding out that it is in fact a thrill, and to remember that thrills feel scary sometimes in a good way like a roller coaster, and scary sometimes in a bad way, but it doesn’t have to be bad if I can laugh and focus and shed the setbacks, and not get distracted by anxiety, doubt, fear, self-punishing.
In reality, the runway show will be–guaranteed–good for some very important things:
1. At least a little bit of public exposure
2. Some street cred on my resume (if I try for a fashion job, which I’m not leaning towards, but rather independent design for myself if I can hack it)
3. A whole lot of internalizing of the skills I’m supposed to learn
4. A sense of whether this is something I’d like to do (still is!)
5. Maaaaaaaaybe a buyer will want to buy one of the garments for a shop.
6. IF I work enough and social-media enough and connect and design postcards and alert the right people, maaaaaybe I’ll get more than one buyer at the show, more than one shop, more than one item, in which case I’m ready to go to production, because a friend of a close friend runs a family-owned New York (domestic!) production company whut whuuuuut????!!! What a ridiculously great thing to have that resource!
I would love to sell at Sassafras, which is very close to where I live, is owned by Amy Tipton, a lady whose personal mission it is to support Seattle fashion designers by offering them workspace and storefront retail space. I love her business model and I’m lucky cuz I get to drop in all the time and socialize with her and the other awesome designers who are often there (Katy Flynn Seattle, Malia Peoples of Other People’s Polyester, Shari Noble of La Macon, Jeni Falldine of Parallel Jewelry).
I would also love to work with Velouria, who (I’ve heard from more than one local designer) are very professional and easy to work with.
I’d love to sell at Baby & Co. but I feel that may be a bit more down the road. And further down the road maybe there’s Bellevue, Kirkland. Or maybe I want to drive to the coast and start everything over again and live in a small beach town and sell my wares by the sea. Or maybe I just need a vacation.
Vacation. To vacate. To vacate one’s home, to vacate routine and change the setting, change the people, change the food, change the climate, change. Change myself, change inside. When I’m done with the runway show in September, and business plan in October, and ballgown in November, and portfolio in December…THEN, if I don’t have sales or projects going on, maybe I’ll drive my dented Civic down the Pacific Coast Highway, away from Seattle’s chilliest rainiest season, along the sun-drenched ocean with nothing but blue in my sightline, and after I’ve gotten as much blue as I need, I’ll head away from the coast and travel east to the desert, east to Arizona, east to Phoenix, where my sister relocates next month (sad), and drive Route 66 together, a place my dad talked about all the time as if we would go there someday, but we grew up too fast. I’ll sit with my sister and her wife and drink something icy in the sun and tell her about the runway show and ask her about hydrology, and let the heat melt away some of my old self, and let the chlorine wash away my uncertainty, and let the dust settle. Maybe my fog will clear. Maybe I’ll get a tan. More likely I’ll get a sunburn, but maybe it’ll fade to a nice slightly peeling tan.
And maybe then I’ll know what to do next. I certainly don’t know right now. But maybe it’s not time to know that yet. And I have to accept that, and be more patient, and slow down, and focus, and narrow my focus, and pin, and stitch, and press, and repeat. Oh, and breathe. A lot of breathing. Better breathing. Meditating. Self-care. Balance. Inner health. So I don’t disappear. Artists: Let us not disappear. Let us brighten the dark space around us.
Keep making things. Keep publishing. Keep jumping into the stream. Keep working. Keep connecting with others. Keep eating. Keep exercising. Keep sleeping. Keep creating. Gotta keep on keepin on.
I don’t want to wait anymore I’m tired of looking for answers
Take me some place where there’s music and there’s laughter
I don’t know if I’m scared of dying but I’m scared of living too fast, too slow
Regret, remorse, hold on, oh no I’ve got to go
There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on
And you’ve just gotta keep on keeping on
Gotta keep on going, looking straight out on the road
Can’t worry ’bout what’s behind you or what’s coming for you further up the road
I try not to hold on to what is gone, I try to do right what is wrong
I try to keep on keeping on
Yeah I just keep on keeping on
I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won’t take the easy road
I’ve woken up in a hotel room, my worries as big as the moon
Having no idea who or what or where I am
Something good comes with the bad
A song’s never just sad
There’s hope, there’s a silver lining
Show me my silver lining
I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won’t take the easy road
Show me my silver lining, I try to keep on keeping on
(Lyrics, First Aid Kit, “My Silver Lining”)
Stayin’ busy but wanted to drop in and leave a couple nuggets I found that pertain to fashion design and manufacturing in general vs. the environment and our own well-being.
The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 40 Years
by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley
Chapter 2: “What Crisis?”
“If the United States is the birthplace of conservation…we have not kept stride with the rest of the world…. We are still the leading practitioners of the kind of high-growth, material-intensive capitalism that is to blame for the destruction of nature.”
“Those who…raise their voice against it cannot be heard when the company that did the [damage] does not belong to the community…. When local politics becomes subservient to distant economic power, the concept of citizenship…loses its meaning…
Reject the official story told by governments and corporations that a healthy economy relies on the suppression of social, ecological, and individual health.”
I was recently interviewed by a sweet 4th-grade student from my former school who was completing her Career Report. She wants to be a Fashion Designer! Here’s the interview. 🙂
What are your 10 fave sewing techniques?
I have some books and a binder full of sewing techniques, with pictures and instructions because I can’t remember 10 techniques–definitely not the hundreds of techniques that are out there! I love to go on Pinterest and find pictures of haute couture techniques. Do you know what haute couture is? It’s French for “high fashion,” and it means the best artists in the world working together to make one garment, each person knowing one special technique. One person puts the beads on the fabric, and they are the best in the business. One person cuts the fabric because they are the best cutter. Each person has a specialty, and the garment is very expensive because so many people helped to make it, and because they are each so good at their technique.
Check out this wonderful video that shows all the people making one beautiful red coat from the very famous French fashion house Dior:
How long does it take to design a dress?
Sometimes the idea just pops into my head, as clear as a photograph, in one instant. This happens a lot when I am falling asleep or waking up. Other times, I have to draw and I’m designing it with my hand and eyes instead of my imagination/mind. When I do it this way it can take a very long time to get the sketch just right. My jacket design took many hours and I erased the paper so many times that it started to shred! Other times, I walk past my drawing pad and I draw a line and then walk away. Then I come back later and draw another line and walk away, and I keep doing this until I feel it’s done.
I just finished my first dress design, and now that I put it on and wore it for an entire day, I realized I like the design but there is one thing I want to change. So even though I thought that design was done, I will now revise it.
And then once you have the design on paper, there are a lot of steps to actually see the design in fabric!
Some designers design the dress on a dress form, or even a live model! The live model might get poked sometimes with pins, because the designer is draping a piece of fabric over her, and pinning it together or cutting it into the shape they want.
Here’s a video that shows a dress being designed in 1938, and being created in 2008. That means this dress was being designed for 70 years!
How long have you been designing?
Since I was about your age. My mom used to design costumes and make some of our clothes, and I would go with her to pick out fabrics and patterns. When I was older I got a sewing machine and have been making some of my own clothes for about eight years. And now I am learning to do my own designs completely from scratch, nobody else’s patterns, my own pattern from my own sketch from my own head.
How do you design a dress?
Many designers do it different ways, but they all start by asking, “What is the dress for?” Personally, I look at other dresses that I love. I try to see what is it that I love about those dresses? Or I look at a garment I partially like, and I think about how I would make it so that I like it even more.
I sketch my design, then I watercolor the sketch. I start to look for fabric in the right color. You have to make sure you get the right type of fabric. Let’s say I want to wear my dress to a Christmas party. I don’t want to make the dress out of thin cotton, because I will be freezing in that fabric! I want something warm, so I have to pick a warmer fabric like silk.
I also need to make pattern pieces so that when I make this dress again later, I’ll know how to cut my fabric. I could also buy a pattern and change it to fit my body.
Then I sew a sample. I start by sewing it in a very cheap fabric, called muslin, to make sure the pattern pieces are correct. If they are, I then sew another sample, in the real fabric. Finally my design is a dress!
What are your fave patterns?
Before I learned how to make my own pattern pieces, I purchased patterns from a German company called BurdaStyle, and some independent patterns from the United States. One of my favorite patterns was free on the internet, and it is basically just two long rectangles of fabric that became a skirt that I wear all the time, and every time I wear it people give me compliments, even though it is one of the most simple things I ever made!
One of the best patterns I ever did was a pattern for making matching mama and baby elephant stuffed animals. I made them for my baby niece, and that’s how I learned to hand-sew!
When you visit we can look at some patterns and you can borrow some if you want to.
What are your fave things to design?
I love to design clothing for myself. When I was a girl, I always wanted to have beautiful clothes, but there were lots of kids in my family so we were kind of poor. Because I couldn’t have lots of clothes, I would imagine clothes, and sometimes even dream about clothes. Designing is really the same as imagining.
I love designing modern clothing based on historical clothing. I think historical clothing was very exciting! But also not very practical. French ladies wore skirts so wide they couldn’t fit through doorways! I think it’s silly to follow a fashion just because it’s popular. You have to think about whether the garment makes sense, whether it gives the lady freedom: freedom to move, and freedom to express herself.
This lady has LOTS of freedom to express herself—her dress says LOOK AT ME! But she does not have much freedom of movement. She can’t go running/jumping/playing in this dress. In fact, it will be hard for her to even dance with other people because her dress will keep hitting all her friends. Plus she’s wearing a corset, which makes her unable to breathe. Sometimes, fashion can be beautiful but silly at the same time.
I love designing dresses, ball gowns, skirts, jackets, hats, everything! My favorite designs, the ones I really enjoyed designing and feel very proud of, are my Hamlet and Ophelia costumes because they are a little more wild. They’re not something you could wear to just anything, they’re more like a piece of art that you mostly look at to appreciate.
Have you ever designed a Halloween costume?
Halloween is cool because for one day a year, everybody is a designer!
I sometimes think instead of being a fashion designer, I want to be a costume designer. But instead, I think I will combine both and make fashion that is sometimes costume-inspired.
Some costumes I designed with my mom when I was a kid:
- A prairie girl, for when I was in Oklahoma in high school
- A purple wizard robe with silver stars all over it, and a matching pointy wizard’s cap. This was when I was in 7th grade, and we learned about Medieval Times. We had a costume competition, and I was one of the winners so I got to eat lunch at the Royal Banquet Table (which was really just a regular cafeteria table but it felt pretty special to me)
- A “flapper” costume for a 1920’s-themed choir concert. It was simple: my mom had a black slip and we glued fringe onto it. I put a sequin band across my forehead.
- A cavegirl costume for a school dance, complete with furry boots and a plastic bone in my hair!
Have you ever designed pet costumes?
I once made a dog coat for Bunny the School Dog, and she even wore it to school when the weather got chilly! It was in the style of Coco Chanel, a famous French designer who made warm stylish jackets for the women of Paris. It had a big gold button on the front to make her look like a proper Parisian lady of a certain age.
Where did you get your fabric?
- Pacific Fabrics in Northgate (they have a special selection of expensive lace and beaded fabrics)
- Stitches on Capitol Hill: This is where I got some of my fabrics that will be in my first runway show.
- Nancy’s Sewing Basket on Queen Anne: They also have an entire room of ribbons!
- QuiltWorks Northwest in Bellevue: They also have old buttons and beads!
The fun thing about being a fashion designer is, sometimes for your job you get to travel to other countries or states and look for fabric that comes only from that place. For example, I went on a vacation to Shanghai (China) once, and while I was there I bought some very unique fabric, that was handmade by a person who lived right there in Shanghai. Because he is one of the only people in the world who makes this type of fabric, it is very special to me. Every time I wear the skirt, I feel connected to the person who made the fabric, even though I don’t know him. This is better than any souvenir keychain or coffee mug I could buy.
“There is a saying in China that if you want to know what colours are currently in fashion all you need to do is look at the rivers.”
Made In China. Textiles and its Environmental Impact in China.
It is estimated that China makes ¼ of the worlds clothing . The processes employed to manufacture textiles is often dangerous to humans and the environment. The problem of environmental damage is not unique to China of course but with more and more of our clothing being produced there what impact is it having on the environment and on the human population? What steps, if any, are being taken to reduce the damage ?
One of the countries greatest environmental challenges is water pollution. The World Health Organisation estimates that polluted water causes 75 percent of diseases in China.
According to World Economic Forum on East Asia, Security and Sustainability China uses three times more energy than the global average, four times more than the USA and eight times more than Japan. Pollution is endemic; four hundred thousand Chinese die…
View original post 611 more words
Thank you for this, Alisha Brown. I needed it.
Walking through Belltown the other day, I ducked into Patagonia to run an errand, then saw this little beauty at the counter. “Hello, what’s this?” I thought (doing my best British accent–in my head). “Business? Responsibility? These are two things I happen to have been stewing on lately. I’ll take it!”
I’m happy I did. So far, chapter 1 alone has inspired me. I’ve been searching for reliable resources who can tell me whether small business and responsibility can go hand in hand. On the one hand, there are business people in my life who seem woefully unaware of global warming, who insist ecological considerations are bad for business, and who purposefully obstruct information. On the other hand, small business owners I chat with want to be responsible, but already flounder to compete and can’t imagine putting on another hat in addition to all the hats they are wearing already. Is it possible to run a responsible company that also turns a profit (or at least pays the bills)?
Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, believes it is. And author Vincent Stanley builds a strong case showing that ecologically sustainability is not only possible and necessary, but also competitively profitable.
Of course, there are environmental reasons for responsible business practices. “Packaging is responsible for a third of all waste generated,” writes Stanley. The authors present frightening data, but not in a guilting or heavy-handed way. In fact, they are open and honest about their own mistakes, and stay focused on solutions–in particular, business solutions, for small and large businesses.
Ecological impact is undeniably the biggest reason for businesses to change their ways, but for the cynics out there who insist it’ll put business under, the authors outline economic reasons for responsible business practices, as well, urging businesses to view responsibility as a competitive advantage in a rapidly changing world. “We are all trying to get a new roof up over the economy before the old, sagging one caves in,” Stanley writes. “According to a new Harvard Business School study, socially responsible investments, which once underperformed more enticing opportunities like subprime mortgages, now over the long term outperform the market as a whole.” (Mental note: Time to invest in solar panels and windmills.)
Finally, there are social reasons for responsible business practices. To begin with, “Individual consumers are famously powerful for controlling two-thirds of the U.S. economy. ” Consumers have an incredible amount of power when they demand more from ethical companies, and stop supporting non-ethical companies. Furthermore, we are coming to the end of an era when consumers didn’t care about a company’s ecological practices, and frankly, we’ve come to the end of the era when we could afford not to. Younger consumers will vote with their wallets. “Every company should be afraid…of teenagers, and what they will consider environmentally acceptable or socially cool as they come into adulthood. No one under forty has ever lived in a year without an Earth Day or thought the health of an ecosystem subordinate to the whims of a corporation.” The authors insist that “a company that can make environmental improvements will attract more customers.” We can assume Patagonia’s continued financial success and customer satisfaction over the course of 40 years bears this advice out.
Are there really any take-aways for a small business owner like me? Here’s a shocking statement: “90 percent of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage; it is the designer in Los Angeles who determines most of the harm to be done in Guangdong.” Pressure! If I am responsible for 90% of CUP & PENNY’s environmental impact, I’d better make sure what I’m producing isn’t adding to the problem. “…Everything we all do at work…hurts the environment more than it gives back,” the authors point out. “No human economic activity is yet sustainable.” Just in case you missed the point, they reiterate one more time: “We have no business applying the word sustainable to business activity until we learn to house, feed, clothe and enjoy ourselves–and fuel the effort–without interfering with nature’s capacity to regenerate itself and support a rich variety of life.”
And yet! The authors immediately remind us, “It makes a difference to do less harm.”
There it is: In a new competitive market where ecological impact becomes increasingly important, less is more. Sustainable business practices, in the fashion world at least, are not just a moral imperative, but a pragmatic step in the direction of long-term success for a business, if we re-define “success.” No longer can we measure success only by profits. Modern companies succeed by adapting, leading the charge towards ecological consciousness. Doing no harm is impossible; doing less harm is imperative to the well-being of not just the planet, but consumers, employees, and CEOs alike.